W.Va. virus cases rising as reopening plan continues

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice pounds the table at the conclusion of his press conference saying the state can beat the coronavirus challenge, Friday, March 13, 2020 at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Justice announced that all schools are to be closed by the end of the school day Friday. (Chris Dorst/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Monday that coronavirus cases are climbing across the state though he declined to strengthen restrictions as his reopening plan continues.

The active caseload has increased by 28% over the past two weeks as outbreaks emerged at churches and after a number of West Virginians traveled to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to state health officials.

Justice, a Republican, said the spikes did not yet warrant slowing down his reopening strategy, which on Monday allowed for sporting events with spectators to resume, though he maintained he will listen to his health experts.

“There’s a lot of real science to this, and there’s a lot of gut feeling,” he said, noting several metrics that included hospitalizations and positive test rates. “You know, from the standpoint of our experts start showing some waffling and concern, then I’m going to react.”

About 70 cases have been linked to church services in Greenbrier, Boone and Ohio counties, including at least 41 positives connected to the Graystone Baptist Church in Lewisburg, officials said. Roughly 50 cases have also flared up after residents in multiple counties traveled to Myrtle Beach. There are at least 755 active coronavirus cases in West Virginia, state data show.

State health officials have repeatedly urged people to wear masks, get tested and follow safety protocols as the state continues to reopen.

“I think we are seeing community outbreaks as we have seen though churches and through family gatherings and other kinds of things,” said Cathy Slemp, state health officer. “I think all of these say to us that the disease is really beginning to pick up a little bit, and we want to make sure that that does not continue and go steeply up. ”

The governor has framed reopening as a process of managing risk and says the state can react to virus hotspots as they emerge. He has already lifted most of the restrictions put in place at the start of the pandemic, and plans to allow fairs and festivals to take place starting on July 1.

At least 90 people have died from the virus in West Virginia and about 2,570 have test positive since the outbreak began, state health officials said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.

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