CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice joined State health leaders and officials from his administration at the Capitol Complex in Charleston today for a virtual press briefing to once again update the public on the many measures being taken in the interest of protecting the public from the spread of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
On Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that he has begun to have discussions with medical experts and other officials about transitioning into the next phase of the State’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
While discussions are ongoing, the Governor did say that a main tenant of this so-called “Phase 2” would be to fine-tune the testing process for COVID-19.
“As we begin that transition, and let’s just hope and pray that our curve continues to stay rock solid and drift down, but then let’s say that all of the experts and everyone says we’re moving into an arena to where we might be able to bring people back to work and bring communities back and everything else,” Gov. Justice said. “As we’re doing that, you know things are going to be somewhat different, for sure. We’re not going to be able to rush right back out and get ourselves in a bigger mess than we’ve already been in. We have prevented a catastrophic mess and we don’t want to rush right back out and do things that are going to cause us to have a relapse that would be much greater than what we contended with on the first go around.
“There’s lots and lots of contingencies that are already in the works on how we’re going to be able to go about doing this and, as we get further down the line, we want to be able to test on a widespread basis in a much more dramatic way than we’ve done before.”
“As we come back out again, we need to become much more like a scalpel than like a hammer,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar. “Ultimately, we need to have the ability, as the Governor said, to test very broadly. We have to think abundantly and create the resources to enable that.
“Instead of the tests that we do today on COVID, which really test for the genetic appearance for the virus in people, we need to move toward looking at tests that tell whether people have immunity toward the virus and that’s a second type of test that is being developed around the country,” Marsh continued. “When we test and identify people that are COVID positive, we need to, very rapidly, identify those people and their contacts and isolate those people versus everybody so that we can reduce that person-to-person spread.”
Dr. Marsh also said that systems would need to be put in place to continue manufacturing a stable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“There is a lot that’s being done and a lot to do,” Marsh said. “We are committed to moving as quickly and as safely as possible to get back to work, to get back to school, to get people back together. But, as the Governor has instructed us to do and has been an absolute leader doing, the health and well-being of our citizens, of you, is the primary responsibility.”
GOV. JUSTICE DELIVERS “HERO PAY” TO WEST VIRGINIANS ON THE FRONT LINES
Gov. Justice also announced that checks, valued at $100,000 each, went out to all 55 counties across West Virginia today to allow for men and women on the front lines fighting the spread of COVID-19 to receive “Hero Pay” for their service to the state.
“We’re just trying to help out people that are really stepping up and trying to do goodness around our state and help our people in every way,” Gov. Justice said. “We want to give our counties, cities, and municipalities as much latitude as we possibly can, but there will be accountability. The recipients will need to send in how they spent the dollars.”
The funds may only be used to cover expenses that are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic.
PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM BENEFITING WEST VIRGINIANS
Gov. Justice announced Wednesday that many small businesses across West Virginia are seeing relief from President Trump’s Paycheck Protection Program.
As of April 13, 2020, there have been 5,211 loans approved for West Virginia qualified participants, totaling more than $1.05 billion.
“I need to surely pass on thanks, again, for President Trump and his administration for quickly standing up for this,” Gov. Justice said. “They’re trying to get more money pumped into the funding because they’ve been overrun by small businesses that we need to be taking care of because they’re trying to take care of their employees.”
UPDATE ON SCHOOL CLOSURES
During the address, the Governor reiterated that any decisions on re-opening schools will be made with the health and safety of students and teachers as the top priority.
“Never, no way on this planet, am I going to think about putting our students or our teachers back into a school setting until I’ve been advised, over and over, by our experts that we are good to go,” Gov. Justice said.
“You can rest assured that there’s no way on Earth that I’m going to condone going back unless it has absolutely been advised to be over and over that we’re in great shape to be able to do so,” Gov. Justice continued.
ELECTION DAY HOLIDAY PUSHED BACK TO MATCH NEW PRIMARY DATE
Gov. Justice also clarified that the State Holiday that typically accompanies West Virginia’s Primary Election Day has been moved to match the new primary date: June 15, 2020.
For more information on West Virginia’s elections, visit GoVoteWV.com.
DATA REPORTING IMPROVEMENTS UNDERWAY
The Governor also announced that he has directed leaders with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia National Guard to address inconsistencies in the ways that the State has been collecting data on COVID-19 cases.
“We’re bringing in additional resources to amp that up to where our reporting is better, more timely, and accurate,” Gov. Justice said. “I’m not going to tolerate it being inaccurate in any way.”
Data and more information on COVID-19 is available at Coronavirus.wv.gov.
UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS UPDATE
Gov. Justice also announced that the total number of unemployment claims in West Virginia since March 1 has now reached 130,000.
“We’re continuing to try to catch up,” Gov. Justice said. “During that same time period, we would have probably processed 3,000-5,000 cases on a normal basis.
“When you try to jam into a jar something that’s 40 times as much, jamming it into that jar gets difficult,” Gov. Justice continued. “A lot of people have done a lot of really, really good work, there’s no question about that. But, you still have a lot of people who are home, who are hurting, who are waiting on us.”
The Governor announced that officials at Workforce West Virginia anticipate that, with additional staffing already in place, the backlog will be caught up by the end of next week.
WEST VIRGINIA NATIONAL GUARD UPDATE
Since beginning operations in support of the state’s COVID-19 response 33 days ago, the WVNG has completed 388 missions through our four lines of effort of operationalizing of the event, stabilizing the population, providing logistical movement of critical supplies and conducting data analysis to combat the virus. Currently, 602 members of the WVNG are on duty serving the citizens of the State of West Virginia.
Today, members of the Task Force Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Response Enterprise (TF-CRE) provided rapid response COVID-19 testing at Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for patients and staff. To date, TF-CRE and our Task Force Medical personnel have assisted in testing nearly 500 personnel for COVID-19.
The West Virginia National Guard took several additional new actions today in support of the State’s COVID-19 response. Click here to read more.
Click here to view all Executive Orders and other actions taken by Gov. Justice to combat the spread of COVID-19 in West Virginia.
For more information about COVID-19 prevention and more, call the State’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-887-4304 or visit Coronavirus.wv.gov.