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W.Va. sees fifth coronavirus-related death

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice expressed sorrow Thursday for the fifth West Virginian to die from the coronavirus and told residents to remain vigilant to limit the spread of the dangerous virus.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, the fifth confirmed coronavirus-related death was an 89-year-old woman from the Sundale Long-Term Care facility in Morgantown. No further information was released.

“It’s now five too many,” Justice said. “I want to urge every one of you to keep this lady’s family in your thoughts and prayers. I just hate it, and this is a tough thing.”

According to the latest data released by Health and Human Resources Thursday morning, there are 485 confirmed coronavirus cases in West Virginia, an increase of two from the department’s Wednesday evening numbers. The department is now updating coronavirus test numbers twice a day at coronavirus.wv.gov. Test results are reported once county health departments inform the state and an investigation is performed.

As of Thursday morning, there have been 12,934 total tests, an increase of only 75 tests since Wednesday afternoon. Justice said an increase of two positive cases might look good, but it was nothing to get excited about.

“You could dance in the streets about that… but we can’t get excited at all about two,” Justice said. “I would not be skewed about the number of positives, because we just didn’t get very many tests results in yesterday.”

Justice said that despite this, West Virginia’s percentage of positive tests compared to total tests was still low at 3.8 percent while the national average is 19 percent, which also is the lowest of any of West Virginia’s surrounding states. The percentage of total tests compared to West Virginia’s population was 7.2 percent while the national percentage was 6.8.

“We’re trending higher on the number of tests taken,” Justice said. “The only state around that we’re not significantly higher than on the amount of tests taken is Pennsylvania. We’re really taking a lot of tests and our positives are still really low.”

In our region, as of Thursday afternoon, Barbour County had four confirmed cases, Randolph and Tucker had three each, Upshur and Hardy counties had two each, and Pendleton County had one confirmed case.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar, said that most of those testing positive for the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, are recovering at home in self-quarantine versus being admitted to the hospital.

Data collected by epidemiologists with the West Virginia National Guard show that of the state’s positive cases, 17 percent resulted in hospitalizations, with 5.9 percent patients in intensive care units with ventilators and 2.9 percent in ICU units with no ventilators, but 82 percent of those testing positive are in home isolation and another 15 percent have recovered. According to Marsh, the state mortality rate for COVID-19 is approaching 1 percent, while nationally the mortality rate is 3.4 percent and 5.5 percent worldwide.

“We know that we have done a lot of important things and our citizens have done a lot of important things to make sure we are doing the suppression strategies to reduce the virus spread,” Marsh said. “Ultimately, by staying at home and staying physically distant from each other, we know we can reduce that spread, which is important.”

According to modeling from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, West Virginia is six days away from peak resource usage on April 15. The model predicts that West Virginia will have plenty of hospital beds and ICU beds to handle any surge of severe coronavirus cases as long as West Virginians continue to follow all social distancing guidelines.

Just in case, state and federal officials are working with the Thomas Health System to use St. Francis Hospital in Charleston as an alternative care facility for coronavirus overflow should it be needed. The facility has 95 beds available.

“We now have a whole government effort together,” Justice said. “Everybody is all in on moving equipment and being prepared. I hope and pray we don’t need it, but we are just trying to be prepared.”

In other news, Justice signed an executive order Thursday ordering public and private golf courses to institute greater social distancing requirements. That same executive order also allows cities and towns to move municipal elections to coincide with the new date of the primary election on June 9.

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