CHARLESTON — Despite three straight weeks of decreased cases of COVID-19, West Virginia is ending the month of August with an uptick of new infections.
According to data from the Department of Health and Human Resources coronavirus dashboard, the number of positive cases over the last 14 days between Aug. 17 and Aug. 30 was 1,681, which is a 5-percent decrease in positive cases from the previous 14 days. As of Sunday — the most recent data available — the state reported 137 new cases.
“We’re trying with every way within us to deal with this pandemic that nobody has ever dealt with,” Justice said. “There’s not a playbook here.”
Active COVID-19 cases — the number of infected people in self-quarantine or hospitalized – was 2,019 cases as of Monday — a 15-percent increase from 1,748 active cases on Aug. 24.
Active cases have increased in 31 out of 55 counties, while cases in 15 counties have decreased and six counties have seen no changes in case numbers. Three counties have no positive coronavirus cases.
According to Justice, there are 36 outbreaks in nursing homes and three outbreaks attributed to churches. There are 138 positive results at Mount Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County, including 15 staff members. South Central Regional Jail in Kanawha County has eight active cases.
West Virginia’s Rt number — the rate that shows how quickly the virus is spreading in the community — was 0.97 as of Monday. Any number below 1 is considered green, but West Virginia dropped from fourth best in the nation last Monday to 25th, meaning that the rate of virus reproduction is increasing again.
The state reported 214 total COVID-19 deaths as of Monday. Deaths are up by 23 percent over a 14-day period with 53 deaths between Aug. 17 and Aug. 30. In the last seven days, the state saw 35 deaths attributed to the coronavirus — a 20 percent increase since last Monday — with 10 deaths reported Saturday, setting a new state record.
“It’s still 214 too many,” Justice said.
Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar, said the number of deaths over the last few weeks and the increase of cases in various communities shows how serious it is to keep the virus controlled.
“We see what happens when COVID spreads to rural counties. We see people dying at a rate faster than what we’ve seen before,” Marsh said. “This is where we come together and do the work we need to do … we want you to re-double your efforts to wear a mask, to physically distance, to stay at home when you’re sick, to cover your coughs and sneezes, to wash your hands. Do the things that protect yourself and protect each other.”
There were 139 hospitalizations in the state as of Sunday. The average number of hospitalizations between Aug. 17 and Aug. 30 increased by 11 percent over the average number of hospitalizations the previous 14 days. Saturday saw a record for hospitalizations at 151. There are 49 infected people in intensive care units and 23 people on ventilators.
The total numbers of tests over the last 14 days was 75,346, which was a 15-percent increase in testing compared testing conducted between Aug. 3 through Aug. 16.
Saturday night was the first use of the new County Alert System to determine what counties would be allowed to have fall sports and extracurricular activities. As of Saturday night, Monroe County was in the red, meaning they could not have either sports/extracurricular activities or practices.
Counties in the orange were Fayette, Kanawha, and Logan counties, which could not have sporting events but could have practices. Any county in the orange or red categories by next Saturday night will not be allowed to re-open for in-person schooling on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Justice said Monday that the state will test all fall sports athletes, coaches, cheerleaders, and marching band members in those three orange counties.
If those students test negative, they will be allowed to play and practice. If they test positive, Justice said it will provide valuable information for getting those counties out of orange and into the yellow and green categories. This is only being offered for those three counties.
“I think we have a real opportunity,” Justice said. “If one person tests positive, we’re going to have to step back and then re-evaluate everything … the underlying thing here is just this: it will give us information to aid those counties and get them out of the orange possibly before we go back into a situation where those kids are not allowed to go back to school.
Justice was greeted at the State Capitol Building by parents of student athletes from counties in the orange, chanting “let them play.” Justice said he hopes testing the student athletes in the orange counties can satisfy those parents, but said he would not be pressured to loosen the standards. However, according to West Virginia MetroNews, Logan, Fayette and Kanawha counties have opted out of the testing, choosing to focus on school re-openings.
“I’m not going to compromise regardless of the pressure,” Justice said. “I’m not going to compromise in any way the wellbeing of our children, the wellbeing of our counties, and the wellbeing of our cities.