CHARLESTON — At least seven people have been diagnosed with COVID–19 related to a Morgantown nursing home, officials say.
During a virtual news conference Tuesday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice reported that there were at least six confirmed cases of COVID-19 among residents and workers, including four residents and at least two workers, at Sundale Rehabilitation and Long-Term Care. Later Tuesday, the Monongalia County Health Department reported a seventh case related to the nursing home.
Justice advised West Virginians not to panic, but not to relax.
“We are the highest risk state of all,” he said. “Don’t relax. Don’t go into crowds. Do all the things. Wash your hands. Stay at home as much as you can.”
Michael Hicks, CEO of the nursing home facility, also known as Sun Dale Nursing Home, said Monday that a female resident was taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital around 3 a.m. Sunday and received a positive test result that afternoon. Officials said it was the first case in West Virginia contracted from someone in West Virginia instead of from someone out of state.
As of Tuesday evening, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources was reporting an additional 19 cases in Jackson, Jefferson, Kanawha, Marshall, Mercer, Monongalia, Putnam, and Tucker counties, while the Harrison County Health Department reported two cases, according to The Exponent Telegram. That made the total case count 28. DHHR’s website lists 20 cases – it only counts one from the nursing home as of late Tuesday, health officials said.
In response to a question about how far along public health inspectors are in their attempts to find others who may have been exposed to those people, Dr. Cathy Slemp, commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, said those investigations are ongoing and conducted at the local level. She said a couple of the new cases were detected through those investigations.
Mary Wade Triplett, a spokeswoman for the Monongalia County Health Department, said Tuesday it’s undetermined exactly how the woman in the nursing home was exposed to the virus.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that COVID-19 had been spreading through the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., for at least nine days when a sick resident was taken to a hospital on Feb. 19. The New York Times reported Saturday that since the first positive tests at Life Care were confirmed on Feb. 28, 129 people there, including 81 residents, tested positive for the virus, and 35 people had died. Dozens of its workers were diagnosed.
COVID-19 may be fatal to both old and young, but particularly to the elderly. The governor asked nursing homes to halt visitation March 12.
Monday, Justice issued a stay-at-home order for West Virginia residents to begin at 8 p.m. Tuesday. People can be charged with obstruction of justice for leaving their residences for non-essential purposes, Essential purposes include, among other things, going to an essential workplace, buying groceries, going to a gas station or picking up a prescription. Any gathering of more than 10 people is prohibited.
He also ordered the closure of all “non-essential businesses.”
Even essential employess may work remotely, Slemp said Tuesday. She said some health care providers are shifting to telehealth.
“Remember that just because you’re designated an essential service doesn’t mean it’s always done in person,” she said.
Brian Abraham, a lawyer for the governor, said WorkForce West Virginia received 16,000 unemployment applications Monday. The governor said 7,000 of those were processed.
Maj. General James Hoyer said the National Guard is working on a plan to assist food banks as well as on a “consolidated supply center” for medical and emergency management supplies.
Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean for health sciences at West Virginia University, said that how West Virginians behave now, including whether they stay six feet apart, stay at home, and practice frequent hand washing, will influence the rate of patient intake at hospitals.
“The curve is not fixed,” he said. “It’s dynamic.”
Officials also said there are discussions ongoing about providing lodging for healthcare providers so they don’t transmit COVID–19 to their family members.
State officials also continued to provide health tips to reduce spread, including: washing hands more frequently for 20 seconds, in between wrists and fingers; cleaning surfaces such as doorknobs; being cautious of elevator buttons; staying home, especially if you are sick; staying six feet from others when you have to venture out; separating from others in your own home if they are sick; remotely working as much as possible; and if you are sick, calling health care providers for guidance before showing up.
Those who haven’t been diagnosed but show symptoms should still self-quarantine, they said. Symptoms may include fever, cough and shortness of breath, although people may be contagious before they show symptoms.
Slemp said if you are sick and you don’t know if you have the virus, behave as if you do and stay home.
Following the advice will slow the rate of people visiting health care providers, potentially avoiding an overwhelming influx of patients like other states and countries have experienced, officials said.
Testing has been limited, so it’s unclear how many West Virginians may unknowingly have the virus.
Bill Crouch, DHHR cabinet secretary, said those who are feeling anxiety should contact one of West Virginia’s 13 state-funded comprehensive behavioral health centers.