Governor suspends nursing home visits as COVID surges

Staff Writer
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Gov. Jim Justice

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday halted nursing home visits as both confirmed cases and deaths from the new coronavirus continue to surge.

Justice said at a news conference that there are virus outbreaks currently at 28 nursing homes statewide.

"Our nursing home situation is bad," Justice said at a news conference. "That's why we've got to do something with our nursing homes today."

Justice stopped nursing home visits in March and let them resume in mid-June.

But the number of virus-related deaths in West Virginia has jumped 23% since Friday, pushing the total for the pandemic to at least 153. Multiple deaths have been reported this month at the Princeton Health Care Center nursing home in Mercer County.

Statistics show 26 of the 29 deaths reported statewide since Friday have involved people over age 70. Justice has said repeatedly the virus could be especially damaging in West Virginia because of the state's high elderly population and high percentage of people with existing health problems.

Justice said earlier this week he plans to have all residents and staff at nursing homes retested for the virus.

The state of 1.8 million residents has seen a smaller amount of cases and deaths compared to other places since the outbreak began.

"States across this nation would give anything to have these numbers," Justice said. However, "we've lost 153 great people. And if we can prevent the 154th one, we should try with all in us to do just that."

Confirmed cases in West Virginia have tripled in the past seven weeks, surpassing the 8,000 mark total on Wednesday, while the numbers of deaths over that period have shot up 66%. But to put things in a national perspective: Florida reported more than 8,109 new cases for Wednesday alone.

West Virginia health officials have blamed the recent surge in part on out-of-state vacation trips, in particular to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a popular destination for West Virginians.

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.