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Southern W.Va. counties becoming hot spots

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice and state health officials echoed concerns from federal officials about the spread of the novel coronavirus into rural areas as counties on the southern border are seeing hotspots.

“The biggest concern and worry that I have at this moment is the migration of this from the South,” Justice said Monday during his coronavirus briefing at the Capitol in Charleston.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, COVID-19 cases are climbing in Mingo, Mercer, Logan, Lincoln and Raleigh counties. Between the four counties, there are 444 active cases, or 23 percent of the state’s active cases.

“Those counties right now we are having a real problem with,” Justice said. “Where do they border? They border the southern states.”

Over the weekend, Justice ordered DHHR and the West Virginia National Guard to Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital and Logan General Hospital due to outbreaks among the staff.

More than 60 residents and staff at the Princeton Health Care Center in Mercer County also tested positive for COVID-19 since last week, with more than a dozen hospitalized.

Speaking during a Sunday interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said rural areas of the country that largely escaped the worst of the pandemic during the spring have not escaped the virus.

“What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as equal urban areas,” Birx said. “To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus.”

The number of positive cases in West Virginia over the last 14 days between July 20 and Aug. 2 was 1,880, an 8 percent increase from the previous 14 days. As of Sunday, the state reported 119 new cases.

The total numbers of tests over the last 14 days was 61,401, which was a 31 percent increase in testing compared to between July 6 through July 19.

There were 1,938 Active COVID-19 cases, the number of infected people in self-quarantine or hospitalized, as of Monday morning.

The active case number is a 15 percent increase from last week, but the state’s Rt number that determines the effective reproduction rate was .98. Any Rt rate below 1 means the spread of the virus is slowing.

Active cases have increased in 26 out of 55 counties, while cases in 20 counties have decreased and six counties have seen no changes in case numbers. Five counties have no positive coronavirus cases.

Young people continue to be the leaders in infection in West Virginia. Residents between the ages of 10 and 29 make up more than 33 percent of all active COVID-19 cases in the state.

The state reported 117 deaths as of Sunday. Deaths are up by 240 percent over the last 14 days with 17 deaths between July 20 and Sunday.

Hospitalizations are up to 116 as of Sunday. The average number of hospitalizations between July 20 and Sunday increased by 54 percent over the average number of hospitalizations the previous 14 days.

While officials believe the number of hospitalizations are not close to overcrowding the state’s hospitals, the state is preparing for that possibility. DHHR announced Monday it was working with Thomas Health to use St. Francis Hospital in Charleston for a dry run in case of hospital overflow. For now, only 15 beds are being set aside for overflow, though during the spring the hospital was prepared to set aside 75 beds between two floors.

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