Health officials stress testing, contact-tracing


CHARLESTON — Governor Jim Justice concluded his press briefings for the week via YouTube Friday afternoon, providing continual updates on the state’s response efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Clay Marsh, COVID-19 Czar, continued to stress the importance of testing and getting tested. He explained that within the past week, the highest group to test positive is those over 70, who have a higher risk of getting severely ill, being admitted to the hospital or ICU, needing a ventilator, and dying.

As COVID-19 starts to rise again nationally, Marsh explained, “It’s really time for each person in our state to make a renewed commitment to do the things that can protect them and protect each other. That is really the way that we are going to get through the next 6-12 weeks, which many people project is going to be the worst part of the virus that we’ve seen… Today and right now is the time for West Virginia to be doubly committed to do the right thing, to mitigate, to get tested, to wear your mask and to stay physically distanced.” He added, “The CDC just came out with new guidelines that said it wasn’t just a continuous exposure to someone sitting six feet or less away from you for 15 minutes; it’s a cumulative exposure. It’s a little exposure here and a little exposure there.”

Marsh then shared that the University of Washington reported if people wear masks consistently, 100,000 lives will be saved by the end of the year.

Christina Mullens, Commissioner of the West Virginia DHHR’s Bureau for Behavioral Health, explained the process and importance of contact tracing. She explained that contact tracing uses a modern cloud-based data system with over 400 active users working on tracing and case investigations, in addition to a list of trained students, volunteers and DHHR staff, if needed.

Mullens asked those who test positive to respond to contact tracers, provide accurate information and isolate, as the information will remain confidential. She then asked West Virginians to answer the phone if they receive a call from the local health department, from the number (866) 611-0661, or from the caller ID “WV COVID19 RESP,” as they may have been in contact with a positive case. “Contact tracing is a critical activity in protecting the lives and safety of our citizens and you can help West Virginia remain strong throughout this COVID-19 pandemic,” Mullens concluded.

The governor announced $17.3 million in Victims of Crime Act Assistance (VOCA) sub-grants have been awarded to 84 public and private non-profit agencies for victims of crime throughout the state. “We need to help these victims in every way in regard to any kind of level of violent crime,” Justice asserted. “With the COVID problems, we’ve seen a rise in the number of West Virginians using our non-profit agencies for assistance. That’s why they desperately need this funding and why I’m proud to get it to them today.”

He explained, “These funds will provide direct services, such as counseling, personal advocacy, court advocacy, client transportation and support services to victims of crimes, including domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse and elderly abuse.” The funds are provided by the U.S. Department of Justice and are administered by the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Services.

He announced there are currently 21 outbreaks linked to school systems, with 72 confirmed cases, and 14 active church-related outbreaks, including Upshur County. The governor also mentioned outbreaks in 45 long-term care facilities. Regarding correctional facilities across the state, he reported 13 active inmate cases and seven active staff cases. Justice also continued to remind residents to get their flu shots, as flu season approaches.

The state’s current statistics, as of Friday at 10 a.m. on the coronavirus.wv.gov dashboard are as follows: Different from the School Alert map, the County Alert map shows 32 counties, including Upshur, in the “Green,” 10 counties in the “Yellow,” Morgan, Pendleton, Wirt, Jackson, Webster and Logan counties in the “Gold,” with Berkeley, Doddridge, Braxton, Wayne, Mingo, Boone and Monroe counties in the “Orange,” and Wyoming County in the “Red.” The WV Cumulative Percent of Tests Positive was at 2.86 percent. The Daily Percentage of Positive Cases rose to 3.85 percent. The state’s 16,368 recovered cases far exceed the number of active cases, at 4,602. Hospitalization was at 193 patients, but the state’s Fatality Rate still stands at less than 2 percent, with 422 deaths attributed to COVID-19. West Virginia has now tested almost 40 percent of its population, conducting 695,527 tests, leading the nation’s average of over 38.5 percent. West Virginia’s Rt value continued to increase to 1.04 percent, as tracked at https://rt.live/.

WV National Guard Major Adjutant General James Hoyer gave an update on the RISE Program and the 2016 Flood Recovery Program, assisting the damage done by flooding across the state four summers ago. He reported that all houses in the RISE program are now in contract for construction and the demolition program has picked up pace.

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