West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice says four more counties have been identified as coronavirus hot spots.
In a virtual news conference on Friday, April 10, Justice outlined continued response to the virus, including the identification of more hotspots, grants to cover additional pay for frontline workers and a boost to staff to handle unemployment claims.
The governor said Friday that Cabell, Ohio, Wayne and Wood counties have seen an increase in cases and will be added to an executive order that already includes seven other counties stricken particularly hard by the virus.
That expanded order offers additional resources to counties and allows local health departments to enforce stricter guidelines for social distancing measures.
Justice also announced a $100,000 block grant for each county to offer additional pay to frontline workers. He said the distribution of those funds would be left to the counties to decide.
“We’re going to give the counties an incredible amount of latitude to reward the people that are the true first responders — the people that are true soldiers right on the frontlines,” Justice said. “It doesn’t matter to me, you know if they’re the people that are to grocery stores. It doesn’t matter to me if they’re the public health workers or first responders and social service workers.”
Justice said a separate block grant will also be made available to the West Virginia National Guard to give $500 of additional pay to each active member responding to the pandemic.
The governor on Friday also addressed those who have been put out of work because of the virus. A skyrocketing number of unemployment compensation claims has slowed the process. In response, Justice also announced additional staffing with WorkForce West Virginia, the agency that handles those claims.
Since mid March, more than 125,000 West Virginians have filed for unemployment. WorkForce West Virginia processed 3,900 claims in all of April 2019. The National Guard and other agencies have been brought in to assist in the processing of those claims.
“Nobody’s ever planned for an all out pandemic. Nobody could have ever possibly planned for that,” Justice said. “WorkForce is just incredibly overwhelmed.”
On Friday, Justice announced 29 employees from the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety — including five employees with the state police — will be brought over to help with WorkForce West Virginia. Additionally, the governor said 60 temporary employees will be hired and begin work Monday to address processing unemployment claims.
Despite the added response measures, state officials, including state coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh, said West Virginia continues to buck national trends when it comes to positive cases identified and deaths.
“Our case fatality is down below one percent, which is fantastic given the fact that the U.S. is over three [percent]. And when we look at the people — percent positive — tested we are at 3.7 or so,” Marsh said.
Nationally, about 20 percent of those tested are confirmed positive, according to data released by West Virginia officials.
Marsh reminded residents to continue to adhere to the governor’s stay at home order.
“If we were in a football game, we’re about to finish the first quarter — and we should feel really good about the way that we’re playing, and I’m sure [West Virginia University] coach Neal Brown and the other coaches in the state would be proud of the actions of our citizens,” Marsh said. “But this is a long game.”
Marsh said updated modeling shows the state is trending in a good direction — with the total projected deaths in the state continuing to be reduced.
The latest projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows 74 residents are expected to die as a result of COVID-19. That projection comes with a 95 percent uncertainty interval — meaning that the actual number could be much higher or lower.
As of Friday morning, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is reporting 574 cases of COVID-19 across the state. Five people have died as a result of the virus.