CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia has again smashed a weekly record for confirmed cases of the coronavirus as Thanksgiving approaches.
Health officials said there were 5,153 confirmed cases of the virus statewide last week, up 11.4% from the old record of 4,623 positive cases set the previous week.
In the past month, the number of active cases has more than doubled to at least 13,678.
Infection rates in 19 counties have forced school systems to suspend in-person instruction.
Gov. Jim Justice and leaders remain reluctant to impose new restrictions on businesses and public life. The state has instead focused on mask wearing and increased testing.
“In some areas, COVID is spreading fast enough that perhaps some focused and precise strategies will need to be done,” said Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s coronavirus response, speaking at a news conference with Justice. “This is certainly the governor’s and his leadership’s decision.”
Winter youth sports may be further delayed, Justice said, after he pushed their start to Jan. 11, which he said is “looking really tough” now.
Justice also blasted a recent social media post from Attorney General Patrick Morrisey about enforcement of the state’s mask mandate. Justice had said businesses facing patrons refusing to wear a mask should call the police.
Morrisey posted on Facebook last week that “we will use our constitutional authority to protect your freedoms” and that the governor’s mask order cannot lead to jail time. The post came as some conservative critics of the Republican governor claim his mask order impinges on personal liberties.
“I was damn disappointed,” Justice said about Morrisey’s statement. The governor has said his order cannot come with criminal charges. “It has nothing to do with our constitutional liberties.”
A federal judge on Monday declined a West Virginia restaurant’s request to throw out the governor’s mask mandate.
Morrisey said in a statement after the news conference that “no one is having a dispute about whether we should wear masks and take all precautions.”
He added that “heavy-handed threats of criminal penalties are not the way forward, especially through an executive order that the Legislature has not approved.”
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.