PRINCETON — Mercer County has seen another COVID-19 related death.
Gov. Jim Justice said Monday afternoon during his pandemic briefing a 78-year-old male from the county was among nine deaths reported over the weekend as a result of the virus.
That brings the total to 30 in Mercer County since the pandemic began.
Brenda Donithan, administrator of the Mercer County Health Department, said the man died on Oct. 6. He had been a patient at Princeton Community Hospital before being transferred to Charleston Area Medical Center.
Justice said all the deaths reported this weekend were elderly people and eight of the nine were from Kanawha County, which has been hit hard by the virus.
“It tells us this killer pandemic attacks the elderly,” he said, adding that the state has an older population and “abounds” with people with chronic illnesses.
“The bottom line is, we’ve got to be able to keep it from these people, don’t we?” he said.
In order to do that, Justice said those who are spreading the virus, the “absolute spreaders,” must be located.
The only way to do that is testing, he said, and many who are spreaders don’t know they have the virus and have no symptoms.
“The more we test, the more we find,” he said, adding that the president of a state university recently reported she had tested positive and was unaware she had the virus because she had “absolutely no symptoms.”
“We have got to test,” he said.
Justice also said Mingo County is now in the red zone, with no in-person school instruction or sports or other activities.
Free testing is set up every day this week in that county as a way to curb the community spread.
Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 Czar, said Monday during the COVID briefing the community spread is the danger, and that is what impacts the number of cases in schools.
But, he said, in looking at the statistics in West Virginia and around the country the transmission rate of the virus is “really low” in school classes.
“We have seen very few outbreaks directly in school classes,” he said. “There is no direct evidence of in-classroom spread. It appears the classroom is a very safe place to be.”
Marsh said the spread takes place in the community by adults and some spread is always a possibility among sports teams because they work closer together.
But classrooms are safe, he said, not only here but also around the country as far as what can be evaluated so far.
Since there is no federal program or initiative to track the rate in schools across the nation, he said Brown University has established a COVID-19 School Response Dashboard.
According to that dashboard, 1,266 schools have reported, representing 212,642 in-person instruction students and 64,222 in-person staff.
The infection rate in both confirmed and suspected cases among students and staff is well below 1 percent, with the confirmed infection rate among students at only .20 of 1 percent.
Marsh said testing in the community is key to stopping it from getting into the schools.
Justice also said he is looking at trying to have enough testing materials and personnel to move into rural counties, like Monroe County, to offer more testing to try to prevent localized spreads from getting worse.
For example, Monroe County’s infection rate increased from 3.77 on Oct. 5 to 9.69 on Oct. 11. The positivity rate jumped from 0.96 to 2.23 percent during that same period.
“We try to test in every way and push ourselves to the total limit of our capabilities,” Justice said, adding that he wants to go out into rural counties and do more testing.
But the state must grow its ability to test after being “maxed out on testing and people.”
“We can only run to so many fires,” he said, referring to the response to counties seeing spikes in numbers.
Justice said he will continue to look at the possibility of going more into rural counties as a preventive measure and add more National Guard testing teams.
“If we can have more teams, we will add them,” he said.
Justice also addressed the possibility of another federal stimulus package, which continues to be held up with no agreement reached.
He compared the political fighting among politicians like “children in a sandbox.”
“It’s a shame,” he said of the failure so far to reach an agreement on a package, which is slated to include another round of $1,200 checks to taxpayers as well as more money for businesses and for unemployment. “But I believe it will pass.”
Justice also said it’s been a “long six months” since the state was basically shut down because of the pandemic and a state of emergency was issued.
But the end is still not in sight.
“We are nowhere close to lifting our states of emergencies,” he said, even if a vaccine is soon vetted and available.
“If we had a vaccine today … and it was good to go, a tremendous number of West Virginians would be hesitant about taking it,” he said. “It will take us a long time to get through that. It will be great day when we lift that (state of emergency), but we can’t do it now.”
In response to a question about tonight’s debate with his challenger, Democrat Ben Salango, Justice said he does not want a “food fight.”
“I hope is it respectful and educational for our voters,” he said. “We should make our points as to how we would govern and what we would do and answer any tough questions that may come our way.”
Justice said he has been too busy to do much preparation for the debate.
— Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org