CHARLESTON — September is starting out not so good for West Virginia as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to increase.
According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, active coronavirus cases increased by 29 percent over the last seven days since Aug. 26, from 1,662 active cases this time last week to 2,146 active cases as of Wednesday morning’s report. The daily percent of positive cases was 5 percent after jumping to 7 percent Tuesday.
“Anybody who is sitting out there on the sidelines saying this thing is not real and it’s just like the flu and everything else, they’ve been wrong,” Gov. Jim Justice said.
The increase in cases is reflected in the state’s Rt number, which determines the rate of reproduction for the virus. Previously in the green, meaning that the virus was slowing, West Virginia’s Rt number was 1.22, which was the third worst number in the country.
“Remember when we were tied with the third lowest rate in the country? How many days ago was that, a week,” Justice asked. “We are now tied for the third highest Rt number, and we want that number to be the lowest.”
“We see a lot of swings with what is going on with the spread of COVID-19, particularly with these Rt values,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar. “As we start to reopen West Virginia, as we go to get back to the things we all love, that it’s going to be tricky living with this virus, because this virus is everywhere.”
COVID-19 deaths have also been high, with 18 deaths reported by the department between Wednesday and Sunday. That’s half the number of people who died from the coronavirus last week, which totaled 36 deaths. As of Wednesday, 230 residents have died from COVID-19.
Much of the deaths are of the state’s older population, with 70 percent of deaths coming from people between 70 and 99, while 19 percent of deaths are between the ages of 50 and 69 and 5 percent of deaths are people between the ages of 20 and 49.
“I want you to dial in and pray for these 230 people,” Justice said. “I pray for all of these and all West Virginians and all of our nation. I say this all of the time, but 230 great West Virginians is a crying shame. I hate and I hope and pray you’ll keep them in your thoughts and prayers. They’re not statistics. They’re people.”
Justice said there are 34 outbreaks in long-term care facilities in the state and four outbreaks in churches, all putting elderly West Virginians at risk for infection and possible death. However, seniors are not the only group at risk for COVID-19. The majority of infections, 22 percent, are within the 20-to-29 age bracket.
Monongalia County, which saw an increase in cases in July that resulted in the shutdown of all bars in the county, had seen its numbers come down. Now that West Virginia University students have returned to campus, COVID-19 infections are going up again. Since Sunday, 62 students tested positive for the coronavirus. Since WVU started doing mass testing for students on July 27, 250 students have tested positive. At least 29 cases have been tied to fraternities and sororities.
WVU President Gordon Gee wrote a letter to the campus Wednesday after pictures surfaced of a line of WVU students waiting to enter a bar in Morgantown.
“To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement,” Gee wrote. “I would estimate that 90 percent of our campus community are doing the right things to stay safe and healthy.
But, as always, it is the actions of a few that bring negative attention to our University.”
“…During this time of a global pandemic, these same actions lead to more than unwanted headlines and social media shaming,” Gee continued. “These actions will lead to serious consequences including additional community spread of COVID-19 and the closing of an on-campus learning environment.”
Justice reinstituted a closure order Wednesday afternoon for an indefinite period of all bars not serving food in Monongalia County to slow the spread of the virus.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.