West Virginia governor's coal companies to pay $5M in fines

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice holds a press conference at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston, on Thursday, March 12, 2020 announcing the state's plans in dealing with the COVID-19 virus.

CHARLESTON — In an address to the state Saturday evening, Gov. Jim Justice said that despite public health recommendations to stay at home as much as possible to stop the spread of COVID-19, some West Virginians are continuing to congregate. 

“What if tomorrow we’re in a spike and 500 people show up at the Welch Hospital?” he said. “And they don’t have but a very few number of beds. What are we going to do? I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to lose a lot of people. And from that standpoint, as your governor, I am here to ask you, in every way, shape or form or fashion, for those that are still out there, that are not trying in every way, who are not taking this as seriously as they should, who are not realizing what really could happen.

“I want you, each and every one of you, to search your soul and tell yourself the truth,” he said. “Tell yourself really and truly, do you really believe this is possible? Do you believe it’s possible that we could waken to thousands of our own that we lose?

“You know that we’re absolutely the state that is most vulnerable of all states, a state that is at the highest risk,” Justice said. “You know we’re an elderly state and we’ve got all kinds of other health issues.”

In Charleston Saturday, parking lots were full at grocery stores and pharmacies. People also gathered at a roadside yard sale. 

The governor noted West Virginians are still gathering “in an unsafe way,” including at stores and bingo halls.

“I know you’re tired,” Justice said. “I know you’re frustrated. I know you’re puzzled about what is really going on, but right now you’ve got to really bear down and buckle up.”

He noted that young people also need to stay home. In a CDC report on nearly 2,500 of the first recorded cases in the United States, 20 percent of the hospitalized patients and 12 percent of the intensive care patients were between the ages of 20 and 44. Young people can also be asymptomatic while carrying the virus and pass it to vulnerable older people.

“If we don’t act, and we don’t act as strongly as possible, we’re going to lose lives and lots of lives,” Justice said.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported a total of 12 confirmed cases in West Virginia as of Saturday evening, including cases in Jackson, Jefferson, Kanawha, Marshall, Mercer, Monongalia and Tucker counties. West Virginia’s first case was confirmed Tuesday, although public health experts have noted that the virus was likely here but undetected.

It’s unclear how many tests are pending. While just one test is pending at the state lab, private companies offering testing, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, aren’t reporting the number of pending tests to the state. 

According to the CAMC Health system website, that hospital system alone is waiting on 197 results.

CAMC, which reported its first confirmed case Friday, reported a second case on its website Saturday.

Mercer County is also reporting two cases.

The governor and Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean for health sciences at West Virginia University, said that preventative measures implemented by the governor may help keep West Virginia’s health care system from experiencing the crisis ongoing in New York City.

NPR reported that New York City had 7,500 confirmed cases in the city as of late Friday. As of last week, the entire state had confirmed fewer than 800 cases.

According to the New York Times, New York City closed schools Monday. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the closure of gyms and health clubs Monday and barber shops, hair salons and nail salons Saturday. The state also closed indoor visitor facilities, such as nature centers, visitor centers, and historic houses, at state parks Saturday.

Justice closed schools last week, gyms and health clubs Wednesday, barber shops and hair salons Thursday, and state park lodges Friday. He stopped short of closing cabins.

Friday, Cuomo signed an executive order directing all non-essential business statewide to close in-office functions effective on Sunday at 8 p.m. 

Justice stopped short of that measure Saturday.

He said, “We are not going to shut down the entire state now.” 

“If we’re going to keep our state open, and we’re going to salute our businesses for all that they’ve done, please continue in every way, shape, form or fashion to let people work from home,” he said. 

Marsh referenced a CDC estimate that 1.7 million Americans could die.

“How do we prevent that from happening in our country and our state?” he said. “We do the things that we need to do to protect each other. Stay in our homes. Don’t congregate.”

He also encouraged washing hands for at least 20 seconds, including wrists and between fingers, and not putting hands around faces. He noted that research suggests the virus can live on surfaces.

He said that once “this window is gone, it won’t matter what we do then.”

He also noted that since COVID-19 is a new virus, people haven’t built immunity.

“We know that if we look at New York City, as the governor said, that New York City has had a tsunami wave of the surge of very sick people thrown at them to the level where their health care system is starting to break down,” he said.

Meanwhile, Marsh said, the governor has encouraged West Virginians “to be very aggressive about starting to do the things we have in our power to stop the spread of this virus.”

“New York City did not,” he said, “And now they’re underwater.”

The New York Times reported Saturday that New York City officials were looking at convention centers and college campuses as potential make-shift hospitals, and that hospitals were so overrun that doctors were having to re-use masks for up to a week after slathering them with hand sanitizer. 

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, health officials also advise people to cough into the crook of their elbows, stay six feet from others if they do have to leave the house, and clean surfaces. 

Email: ebeck@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter@3littleredbones

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