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West Virginia governor delays action as virus spikes

Governor Jim Justice said he is considering limiting the sizes of gatherings across the state and is “looking” at closing bars and indoor dining in Monongalia County in response to rising caseloads.
Governor Jim Justice said he is considering limiting the sizes of gatherings across the state and is “looking” at closing bars and indoor dining in Monongalia County in response to rising caseloads.(WSAZ)
Published: Jul. 10, 2020 at 5:27 PM EDT
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(AP) - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice delayed action Friday on whether to strengthen coronavirus restrictions as the state reports spikes in cases, hospitalizations and transmission rates.

The Republican governor said he is considering limiting the sizes of gatherings across the state and is “looking” at closing bars and indoor dining in Monongalia County in response to rising caseloads. He said he needs more information before moving forward but said a decision could come next week.

New virus cases have been ticking up in the state and the numbers this week peaked to the highest daily levels since the outbreak began, according to the state health department. Hospitalizations have risen to their highest number since May 1. The state’s active caseload is the highest since the pandemic started and the daily positive test rate has also increased. As the governor was briefing reporters Friday, the state’s virus transmission rate moved from the second highest in the nation to the highest.

“We know this disease and killer is right here, right now. We all know that. And what are we trying to do? We are trying to manage the economic aspect, the absolute emotional and mental and physical aspects of everything, and manage the risk as best we possibly can,” Justice said at a news conference.

The governor has signed an executive order requiring that people wear face masks indoors when social distancing isn’t possible. He has urged residents to wear the masks, calling face coverings “the only bullet that I have right now to do something other than to shut our state back down.”

Clay Marsh, a high-ranking West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, said it is a “very critical time for our future and for the future of the health of this state.”

“In the initial phase we know that if we don’t do things today, 12 days later we’re likely to see a significant uptick in the people that are sick and how sick they are,” he said, reiterating Justice’s call for people to wear face masks.

Also on Friday, the governor named internal medicine and preventive health care physician Ayne Amjad as the new state health officer and public health bureau commissioner. Justice forced out the department’s previous commissioner, Cathy Slemp, last month after he said cases in the state were overstated.

Amjad earned a master’s degree in public health from West Virginia University and a medical degree from Marshall University. She also studied internal medicine at Allegheny General Hospital and founded a non-profit to combat opioid addiction. Amjad told reporters that “everything happened really fast but I’m excited to be a part of the team.”

At least 95 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 3,900 have tested positive, according to state health data.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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