Governor orders comprehensive daycare testing as data indicates ‘turbulent’ days ahead

CHARLESTON – West Virginia’s governor ordered testing for all daycare and assisted living workers and the state’s COVID-19 czar cautioned that coronavirus cases could soon be on the rise again in the Mountain State.

During Wednesday’s daily press briefing, Dr. Clay Marsh said while several data points suggest West Virginia is headed in the right direction, he’s also been watching one metric dealing with infection rates that is trending upward.

The R0 rate indicates how infectious a disease is, and according to Marsh, “how much spread a single person may be able to do.” Marsh said that R0 metric has risen from .74 to .90 between the weekend and today, Wednesday, May 6.

“This means that we’re starting to see that maybe the spread of the virus is starting again in our state,” Marsh said Wednesday during Governor Jim Justice’s daily press briefing. “So, while some of our numbers look really good, as the governor said, there’s a lot of turbulence in the water. As we start to come out, we may have to stop, go backwards and maybe even leave the dance floor for a little bit.”

Justice echoed Marsh, urging residents to help prevent the spread of the virus by wearing a mask in public, washing hands for 20 seconds, refraining from touching faces and practicing social distancing.

“Please wear masks, wash your hands, look after the elderly and keep social distancing,” Justice said. “Please bear with us just a little bit longer. The days to come aren’t quiet seas and clear sailing. We don’t want this thing to bite us, and absolutely this thing can turn around the bite us, and bite us really bad.”

In layman’s terms:

  • An R0 of 1.0 means an infected individual transmits the disease to exactly one additional person. The number of new cases remains steady from day-to-day.
  • An R0 less than 1.0 means an infected individual transmits the disease to less than one additional person. The number of new cases will decrease and the virus will decline and eventually die out.
  • An R0 greater than 1.0 means an infected individual transmits the disease to more than one additional person. The number of new cases will increase and the virus will spread at an ever-growing rate until something (such as a vaccine) arrests the spread.

Since there is no vaccine for COVID-19, the primary way to decrease the R0 rate is through isolation, social distancing, wearing facial coverings and practicing proper hygiene, such as hand washing.

Justice had already slowed the state’s reopening plan — dubbed “The Comeback” — with just drive-in theaters and healthcare related fitness centers getting the greenlight to reopen in Week 3, which begins next Monday.

West Virginia began reopening last week after the number of new cases dropped by more than half during the stay-at-home order, from an average of around 50 new cases a day in mid-April to about 20 in early May. Testing likewise surged over that period.

During Wednesday’s briefing, the governor also announced that all residents and staff at assisted living facilities and daycare employees in West Virginia will be required to be tested for COVID-19.

Justice issued an executive order making COVID-19 testing mandatory for all childcare employees and assisted living facilities after four daycare center employees in Kanawha County tested positive for COVID-19.

“We had four positive daycare staff in Kanawha County, and none of these people had any symptoms,” Justice said. “I am now issuing an executive order, as we move through all nursing homes being tested, that now all (employees and residents of) assisted living facilities be tested; however, in that executive order, we are also going to make it mandatory that all daycare staff be tested.”

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard confirmed one of the four COVID-19 positive cases was an employee of the National Guard Child Development Center in Kanawha County, saying the individual has since been isolated.

Justice said he hopes daycares will be “up and going soon” but thinks it’s unwise for them to open before employee testing has been completed. The governor noted the four positives came from daycare centers in the Charleston area that voluntarily tested their employees for coronavirus.

“It is our hope that they will be up and going … We need them to take care of our children, but we absolutely cannot risk our children getting infected and taking anything back to their parents and grandparents and families,” he said. “I hope that all daycare workers will be extremely cooperative.”

The governor said there would also be targeted testing of African-American communities, a population that’s been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“We are looking at these communities and doing the prudent type work that will enable us to ensure we won’t have critical problems in those communities as well,” Justice said.

Justice touched on the $1.25 billion in federal aid the state has in a bank account, which he hopes to use to “backfill lost revenues.”

“We’re going to be able to do things all over the place, whether it be in counties or cities,” he said. “But as there begins to be more rollouts, here’s the thing that you got to entrust. You got a business guy that’s here, and this is right in his wheelhouse. You’ve got a guy whose told you these are coming. We are working this from so many different angles it’s unbelievable.”

Currently, states aren’t permitted to use the revenue to cover budget shortfalls, but Justice said he believes that could change next week when lawmakers return to Washington, D.C.

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