CHARLESTON – As testing for COVID-19 has increased in West Virginia, so has the number of diagnoses. 

CAMC Health System in Charleston announced the eighth case Friday afternoon.

“Expect the numbers to go up but don’t panic,” said Dr. Sherri Young, executive director and health officer for the Kanawha County Health Department. “We know the numbers are going to go up, but that does not mean that the social distancing is not working. We’re just getting more testing available.

“And that’s why we’re finding more cases. We won’t see how well we have done with social distancing until two weeks from now, so bear with us.” 

As of Friday evening, private companies and the state lab had tested 340 samples. They’d found eight positive cases, while results for two tests were pending.

The eight cases include people in Jackson, Jefferson, Kanawha, Mercer, Monongalia and Tucker counties. Tucker and Jefferson counties each reported two cases. 

Nationwide as of Friday, 201 people had died from complications of COVID-19, a respiratory illness causing a global pandemic. Most cases in the United States have, so far, been in Washington state and New York state.

Also Friday, Italy announced 627 people had died in a day, up from 429 the previous day. More than 3,400 have died in total. A month ago, there were three confirmed cases in the country.

During a virtual news conference Friday, Gov. Jim Justice announced that he has issued an executive order mandating the statewide closure of all West Virginia state park lodges as well as the closure of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail to the general public.

“We want you to enjoy the parks,” he said. “We want you to get outside. We want you to bike and hike and fish. But you just need to stay away from people. Taking in the wonderful, pristine air from our parks can be very calming.

“Absolutely go to our parks and enjoy the parks. We’ve just got to close down our lodges.”

He noted employees at the state parks and those riding on the trail are often from out of state.

The Washington Post reported Friday that state leaders in three states have ordered residents to stay home.

Justice said broader measures like a state-wide quarantine were not being implemented “because, and we hope and pray we’re right about this, because we were ahead of the curve.”

He did ask people to stay at home and separate as much as possible, and “be smart and be wise” about attending funerals, where multiple older people congregate in small areas. He’s also encouraged remote work.

“I plead with you to stay apart, and I plead with you to help the elderly,” he said.

Among other measures, Justice has closed schools, halted visitation at jails, and closed restaurants, bars, barber shops, nail salons, hair salons, casinos, health clubs and gyms.

He noted that the state tourism department is now listing restaurants offering pick-up and delivery. That web address is https://wvtourism.com/dining-map/.

He said farmers markets and feed stores would remain open.

Allison Adler, a spokeswoman for DHHR, said in an email Friday that the seventh person, in Jackson County, is being treated at home.

First case reported in state capital

CAMC in Charleston announced the Kanawha County case, the eighth case, via social media Friday afternoon. 

Adler referred questions about the Charleston case to CAMC, since CAMC announced the case.

In response to questions about whether DHHR investigators were compiling a list of people and areas that may have been exposed to the virus and were contacting them, and whether those areas would be released, Dale Witte, CAMC spokesman, said, “Due to privacy laws we can’t release any further info than what we shared via social media: 

“CAMC now has its first COVID-19 positive patient.

“This patient was identified early on as a possible COVID-19 case and has been properly isolated since entry into CAMC.”

He didn’t respond to a question seeking which privacy law prevents hospitals from answering questions about measures to reduce community risk.

As of Friday, CAMC had sent in 235 samples to be tested for COVID-19. They’d received 59 negative results and were still waiting for results for 175 samples.

During a news conference at the Kanawha County Health Department Friday, Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin called on local residents to “pause in place” this weekend if they have the ability. If residents have to leave home, they should make it one trip. She said doing so could “make a monumental difference.”

“Pause,” she said. “Pause before you go out to the grocery store. If you need to go get your medicines, get it, but do you need two or three people going with you? If you’re going to do yard work, do you have something that you can use already in your garage or do you have to go out and buy more?

She also noted that seeing more cases was expected because testing has increased.

“It’s OK to be worried,” she said. “Panicked, no, but worried, yes.”

Young, the health officer for the health department, said the latest infected person to be reported is a Kanawha resident but had traveled out of state to a hard-hit area.

She said people in the person’s household are “aware of the situation” and “will be quarantined.”

She said they are working to determine people who may have been exposed to the virus and “people will be notified if they have been in close contact.”

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, health officials advise people to wash hands and wrists for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching their eyes and mouth, cough into the crook of their elbows, avoid groups of more than ten people, stay home as much as possible, stay six feet from others and clean surfaces.

Doing so could prevent a surge of patients at unequipped hospitals, health officials say. Rocco Massey, CEO of Beckley ARH, said Friday that the hospital is currently seeing more patients with respiratory illness, but noted that is common during flu season.

He said DHHR had requested that the hospital let DHHR report any positive cases, so if any cases are detected at his hospital, he will let DHHR report that finding publicly.

The Herald-Dispatch reported Friday that a Gallia County, Ohio, resident had tested positive for COVID-19 in Cabell County.

Red Cross facing blood shortage

Erica Mani, chief executive officer at American Red Cross West Virginia Region, said it is facing a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations, which could result in another health crisis.

Those who are healthy and feeling well can make an appointment to donate by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767). 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and the disease is usually mild. But public health officials have noted that it can be fatal, particularly for older people and those with underlying conditions, and that spread can be slowed by limiting social contact.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that younger people have also experienced serious complications. 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.

Also Friday:

— DHHR announced it was closing the vital registration office in Charleston. The general public can still access certified copies of birth, death and marriage certificates by mail or online at www.vitalchek.com. To learn more about the process, visit http://www.wvdhhr.org/bph/hsc/vital/birthcert.asp or call 304-558-2931.

— Justice also announced the suspension of multiple statutory rules Friday, which he described as “cutting the red tape to get our health care workers to work.” That included suspending the requirement for telemedicine providers to be licensed in West Virginia, provided that such providers possess a license within their own state. He also relaxed numerous other regulations for health care providers, such as the requirement that any medical provider “hold an active, unexpired license” issued by the Board of Medicine, with the exception of those with pending complaints, investigations, consent orders, board orders, or pending disciplinary proceedings.

— The governor said COVID-19 news conferences won’t be held over the weekend, “unless we have a real issue that needs to get to you and needs to get to you immediately.” News releases will still go out and DHHR’s COVID-19 case count website will be updated.

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

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