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).
Gov. Jim Justice issued two executive orders today – one to suspend all elective medical procedures and the other directing private campgrounds to prohibit new out-of-state campers – as West Virginia continues to put protections in place to limit the rate of spread of COVID-19. He also said he will do whatever it takes to keep the Williamson Hospital open in Mingo County.
“As of 11:59 p.m. tonight all elective surgeries are suspended so we can continue to do whatever we can to protect our healthcare providers and conserve medical supplies,” Gov. Justice said.
The order states “that all elective medical procedures are hereby prohibited; provided that patients will still have access to urgent, medically necessary procedures like those needed to preserve the patient’s life or long-term health; and provided that this prohibition applies equally to all types of elective medical procedures performed in hospitals, offices, and clinics throughout the state. The term “elective” includes medical procedures that are not immediately medically necessary to preserve the patient’s life or long-term health, except that procedures that cannot be postponed without compromising the patient’s long term health, procedures that cannot be performed consistent with other law at a later date, or procedures that are religiously mandated shall not be considered “elective” under this Order.”
“And we are also shutting down our private campgrounds to those new arrivals from out-of-state,” Gov. Justice added. “We are moving in the right direction, we’re doing the right things to limit the exposure of West Virginians to this virus and we can’t afford now to have someone come in from out-of-state and infect our residents.”
“We remain the highest risk state in the nation and while statistics show us that the rate of positive tests for COVID-19 in West Virginia is at 3.8 percent, compared to eight to 10 percent across the rest of the country and 30 to 50 percent in New York, we can’t let our guard down. If we do, our health care centers will be overrun and it will be catastrophic.
“We’ve already lost one too many lives and we should pray we don’t lose another,” Gov. Justice added. “So I’m going to keep doing everything I possibly can to protect all West Virginians.”
Calling the Williamson Hospital, a “critical, precious commodity” to Southern West Virginia, Gov. Justice said negotiations are underway between private entities and he “stands ready” to “help in any way” to keep that facility open.
“We pulled it off in Fairmont and we need to do the same in Williamson, they desperately need that community hospital.”
DHHR OFFICIALS GIVE UPDATES ON TESTING SITES, SNAP BENEFITS
Dr. Cathy Slemp, State Public Health Officer, said 185 sites across West Virginia are now performing testing for COVID-19 and that some 4,000 state residents have been tested.
DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said the agency’s Bureau for Children and Families has been granted two waivers from the federal government for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as part of an ongoing response to COVID-19.
“Addressing food insecurity during this time of crisis is essential and this is good news for SNAP recipients,” Sec. Crouch noted. “One waiver will provide an extension of the renewal period for those already receiving SNAP benefits. SNAP recipients due for eligibility review in March, April or May 2020 will have their review delayed for six months. Notifications will be sent to individuals with case-specific information.
“Another waiver will allow for a supplemental payment to households approved for SNAP benefits prior to April 1, 2020. This will increase SNAP benefits to the maximum allowable amount for the month and will vary by client. These payments will be released to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards on April 3 and May 1. There is no application or paperwork required and clients do not have to contact their DHHR office to access this benefit. SNAP households that already receive the maximum monthly allotment are not eligible for this supplemental payment.”
For additional information, please call DHHR’s Customer Services hotline at 1-877-716-1212.
COVID CZAR SAYS HE IS VERY INSPIRED BY WEST VIRGINIANS COMING TOGETHER
“As you look around the country you are seeing that many metropolitan areas are starting to see the same kind of surge they had in New York City,” Dr. Clay Marsh said. “That’s why it is really, really important for everyone to stay home and stay committed to protecting themselves, their communities and the state.
“Our medical centers, universities, hospitals, long term care facilities have been outstanding and have come together as a team, every single entity, nobody is competing against anybody, it’s been very inspiring,” stated Dr. Marsh. “But it is easy to become complacent and we just can’t do that…every day we all have to wake up and stay committed.”
NATIONAL GUARD KEEPS OPERATING IN MULTIPLE AREAS TO AID CITIZENS AND MEDICAL WORKERS
Today, the West Virginia National Guard has nearly 370 Soldiers and Airmen on duty supporting COVID-19 response efforts across the state. Through our four lines of effort, the Guard, in partnership with numerous agencies and business/industry leaders, is making significant progress on many initiatives that will positively impact West Virginia’s response and recovery through this public health crisis.
“We just ask all West Virginians to keep following the guidelines to keep our state safe and help to continue to flatten the curve (as it relates to the spread of the virus),” Gen. Hoyer said.
West Virginia Guard Soldiers provided personal protective training for one of our large-scale retail establishments today and we have plans to roll out that training to numerous other retailers, food establishments and convenience stores in the coming days and weeks. We are also continuing our mission of supporting the most vulnerable populations in the state and in the last 24 hours, we closed out our mission in Greenbrier County, which provided more than 10,000 meals last week, and stoop up a new mission in Huntington. At the Mountaineer Food Bank, we packaged 851 family of four meals yesterday.
As of today, we have received critical medical supplies from the national stockpile and are preparing to distribute them to all 55 counties in the state tomorrow. Included in the delivery over the last 48 hours are gowns, gloves, N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, and coveralls. Our Soldiers and Airmen continue to support our partner agencies by providing traffic control for a drive through testing facility in Huntington and working with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services through seven regional epidemiology teams to ensure data analysis and tracking of the virus spread.
“As we continue to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic I do think it is extremely important to remind each and every one of you while you are at home that the 2020 US Census is still going on and it is very critical to our future,” Gov. Justice said.
“Mailings have been or are being delivered to your home that asks you to respond to the Census online or by phone. I encourage all West Virginians to respond as soon as possible. It’s simple. It only takes about 10 minutes. And when you respond it keeps the Census Takers from having to actually visit your home later to make sure you are counted. Please fill it out as soon as you receive it because it impacts us in so many ways, it determines in many instances how federal dollars are dispersed and every single person in our state needs to be counted.”
WVABCA ISSUES ADVISORY TO RETAIL LIQUOR OUTLETS
WVABCA Commissioner Frederic Wooton issued an advisory to the state’s retail liquor outlets after reports of an influx of out-of-state and in-state people purchasing liquor in West Virginia.
“The WVABCA advises all retail liquor outlets to practice social distancing and limit the number of people congregating in any retail liquor outlet for the public’s safety and your safety,” Commissioner Wooton said.
“Further, if you find that individuals are purchasing large quantities of liquor, it would be in your best interest to limit quantities per individual, perhaps to 3-4 bottles per person. You should also be advised some retailers are installing Plexiglass separation shields between their employees and patrons and we ask you to please follow all federal and state guidelines related to COVID-19.”