Dave Mistich Published

Justice Hopeful To Reopen Schools Before Summer, But Offers No Timeline


Updated Tuesday, April 14, 2020 at 5:10 p.m.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and other officials continued to say the state is trending in the right direction in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic but continue to hold off on lifting orders that have brought everyday life to a screeching halt. 

In a virtual news conference held Tuesday, Justice cited a map of the United States that represented confirmed COVID-19 deaths. He noted that West Virginia reports fewer deaths than neighboring states, as well as most other states. 

“It’s nine too many,” Justice said about the number of deaths that had been reported in the state. “But it’s one heck of a lot better than anything is going on around us. And understand just this: there’s no other state anywhere close to us — that has any kind of results like that — until you go way out west where the populations are few and far between.”

By Thursday evening, the state Department of Health and Human Resources had confirmed a 62-year-old man from Marion County as the tenth death related to COVID-19.

West Virginia is now nearly a month into responding to the pandemic. Through a series of executive orders, Justice began closing businesses on March 17 and a stay-at-home order went into effect March 25. 

Justice urged residents Tuesday to “stay the course” by remaining at home and continuing to practice social distancing. He said the state had anticipated a “surge” in cases between April 8 and 10.

The latest projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show demand on hospital resources in West Virginia will peak April 18 and the highest number of deaths per day (through Aug. 4) is projected to come April 20. 

Those projections assume social distancing and mitigation practices remain in place through the month of May.

“We don’t want another surge. We’re trending in a great way,” Justice said. “And as we continue to trend in a great way, a lot of good things will start to happen to things that we want to start happening.”

But Justice also tempered his optimism. For now, he and state officials are not ready to re-open all businesses and other aspects of life that have been put on hold over the past month. 

“We’ve got to be cautious. I don’t want to send everybody out dancing in the streets right yet, but absolutely we’re getting there,” Justice said. “And we’re getting better.”

Tuesday marked the first day Justice and other state officials publicly discussed what things might look like when restrictions are lifted. State coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh said there will likely be many measures that remain in place for some time.

“We will probably recommend people wear masks or face coverings, particularly in areas where you can’t socially distance as well,” Marsh said. 

Asked whether there was a chance schools would reopen before the end of the academic year, Justice said, he is hopeful to have classes resume “for at least a little bit of time.” As of now, schools are closed until April 30. 

Tuesday’s virtual news conference came just a day after President Donald Trump asserted he had “total authority” to lift restrictions imposed by governors to fight the spread of COVID-19. 

Asked to react to Trump’s comments, Justice said that the president is “under unbelievable pressure” but that he was unsure of what amount of power the president holds. 

“I cannot answer if it’s accurate or inaccurate and everything. But I can tell you that, you know, we should step back and give passes on opinions,” Justice said. 

Justice is not yet offering a timeline on reopening many aspects of daily life in the state. The governor said, as those conversations continue, he will continue to consult with health care professionals like Marsh.

But Marsh continues to caution that West Virginia remains in the early stage of its response. He said any lifting of restrictions – without an effective vaccine or treatment – will be a balancing act.

“As we do that, we know that in many ways the next stage is going to be much trickier than the first stage — and certainly with the first stage of this COVID-19 pandemic,” Marsh said. “We know that it’s been really important to try to reduce the rate of spread [and] not to create the surge and overwhelm our health assets and critical care beds.”