West Virginia court hearings postponed as virus cases hit 16

Moriyah Cox, left, and Raisa Wheeler, both with Mt. Hope EMS, work on flu and coronavirus tests during drive-thru testing by the Fayette County Health Department in Oak Hill, W.V. on Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Chris Jackson/The Register-Herald via AP)
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Most court hearings in West Virginia have been rescheduled to April after the Supreme Court of Appeals issued a judicial emergency amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The high court on Sunday ordered hearings throughout the state to be postponed until April 10.

“We believe it is our responsibility to limit such in-person contact to the fullest extent possible while ensuring that our courts address emergency matters necessary to protect the health or safety of our individual citizens and our communities,” Chief Justice Tim Armstead said.

The administrative order allows for so-called emergency proceedings such as initial criminal appearances, coronavirus-related matters and child abuse cases to he held, preferably through video conference or telephone. A complete list of the hearings allowed to go forward is available on the court’s website.

The Supreme Court’s announcement came a day after it said that a judicial employee who works in Kanawha County tested positive for the virus and has been hospitalized.

Statewide, West Virginia health officials said at least 16 people have tested positive for the virus, with 444 negative tests and 4 pending.

Gov. Jim Justice, in a rambling statewide address Saturday night, declined to order a broad lockdown similar to those in New York, California and Illinois. He issued a statement Sunday saying that “our medical community” and the federal government “have not given those recommendations to me at this time.”

“However, we will be working into the hours of the night tonight, monitoring every single aspect of this, which may very well lead us to take more aggressive measures,” Justice’s Sunday night statement read.

The governor has previously issued a state of emergency and ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, casinos, gyms, health clubs, recreation centers, barbershops, nail salons and hair salons. He has also closed lodges and the famous Hatfield–McCoy Trails. Schools are shuttered until at least March 27.

Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin and Kanawha County Commissioners Kent Carper, Henry C. Shores and Ben Salango, in a letter to Justice, urged the governor to issue a mandatory stay-in-place order for the state.

“In Kanawha County, we are already running short on critical resources used by our first responders and health care workers including personal protective equipment,” the letter read. “A state mandated stay-in-place order would provide valuable time for our health care system to prepare for the inevitable spike in the number of COVID-19 infected patients.”

Kanawha County Schools, the state’s largest school district, on Sunday said it was discontinuing a bagged meal service for students. In a tweet, the department said “Some employees were beginning to not report due to fears of their own health and safety and we respect their health and safety” and that it was looking for alternate ways to get the meals to students.

Justice is scheduled to hold a new conference Monday.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority recover in several weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness, including pneumonia.