W.Va. moves to start reopening, though key criteria unclear

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Friday rolled out aggressive steps to reopen daycares and restaurants without setting specific benchmarks on testing, equipment and coronavirus tracking.

Speaking in broad strokes, the Republican governor said he wanted daycares and outdoor seating at restaurants to open as soon as possible. The strategy comes days after he announced hospitals will resume elective procedures as early as next week.

Justice, a billionaire coal and agricultural businessman without previous government experience, said the state will take “baby steps” in lifting virus restrictions to avoid a jump in cases. He will mandate testing of all daycare staff and said he is looking into doing temperature checks on kids and parents.

“We absolutely want to come back to work but we want to make sure that we do not have a backlash,” Justice said, adding he will give more reopening details early next week.

Still, Justice and his administration did not outline criteria on testing capacity, virus contact tracing and personal protective equipment availability that they were using to make their decisions. Similar guidelines are included in a three-phase White House plan for states to use to reopen economies.

The governor last Friday ordered that residents and staffers of all nursing homes in the state be tested, saying a partnership with the major testing lab LabCorp would make it possible to test the around 28,000 people in about a week’s time. Justice said the effort should be finished sometime next week.

Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, has given varying testing capacity numbers in a state of roughly 1.8 million people. State health officials on Friday said there’s been around 32,400 tests done statewide. Thirty-two people have died and about 1,000 have tested positive.

A spokeswoman for the state health department said this week that local governments are leading the contact tracing effort and have 39 people dedicated to the task statewide. The state’s National Guard has also assigned 40 people to help the local governments. Marsh said the state is expanding it’s tracing ability, including some kind of digital surveillance mechanism, though he did not give specifics.

On personal protective equipment such as more masks, gloves and medical gowns, Justice acknowledged that the state needs more items but did not give further details.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can bring about more severe illness, including pneumonia, and even death.

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