Floating a reopening, Justice to listen to health experts

CHARLESTON, W.Va.
(AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice cautiously floated the idea of
reopening parts of the state but made clear Thursday that he will heed
the advice of health experts before lifting coronavirus restrictions.

The
Republican governor said there’s immense pressure to restart the
economy but maintained that health officials pushing for expanded
testing and contact tracing take precedence.

“It would be my goal to get us back to work and get us back to a life that is close to where we were before, but — and here’s the but but but — my number one job is to protect all of you the best I possibly can,” he said.

Justice’s comments came just after President Donald Trump briefed governors on a three-phase approach of slowly restoring normal activity in places that have strong testing and are seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases.

“You’re
going to call your own shots,” Trump told the governors, according to
an audio recording obtained by The Associated Press. “We’re going to be
standing alongside of you.”

West
Virginia was the last U.S. state to report a positive case, a fact
touted by Trump but attributed to low testing by Justice. Still, with
only just over 18,000 tests performed, West Virginia has one of the lowest testing figures in the country.

State health officials are reporting at least 739
positive cases, with 13 deaths, though they have admitted that testing
is limited and that their tally lags behind actual totals as results
pour in from county governments. The low case count could also be
attributed to low population density in a state of around 1.8 million
people without urban centers and no cities with over 50,000 people.

Justice, who has drawn criticism for sending mixed messages on the virus and fluctuated wildly between topics in his Thursday press conference, instituted a statewide stay-home order on March 24,
around the same time that other governors in the region took similar
steps. He has recently strengthened restrictions in 12 hot spot counties
that saw spikes in cases and dispatched the national guard to nursing
homes in an effort to control growing outbreaks.

The governor also warned that West Virginia is the country’s most vulnerable state, with a fifth of the population over the age of 65 as well as high rates of diabetes, lung disease and other health problems. A Kaiser Family Foundation study has backed up Justice’s assertion, finding that more than 49% of adults in the state are at high risk of developing serious illness from the virus, the highest percentage in the country.

For
most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptom. But
for others, especially older adults and those with existing health
problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening
pneumonia.

“All
would be forgotten very quickly if we moved into a stage quicker than
we should, and then we got into a situation where we had people dying
like flies,” Justice previously said.

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Source: Mountain Top