First, Gov. Jim Justice, during a pandemic press briefing on Friday, postponed all winter prep sports until second semester, adding additional mask requirements – with the force of law – for certain public businesses in the state.
He also announced that all 55 school districts would be on remote instruction for the first three days after Thanksgiving break – reopening schools Dec. 3 – in an effort to suppress transmission of Covid-19 smack dab in the middle of the holiday season.
But the pandemic was not waiting until Thanksgiving or the spring term to inflict further damage on the current academic and sports calendars.
The Department of Education’s color-coded map, fed by metrics assembled by the Department of Health and Human Resources on Thursday, colored 17 counties in either orange or red, putting students in those districts in remote learning protocols and shutting down athletic competitions.
As a result, 10 high school football teams saw their seasons end on Saturday with release of the DOE map, and school superintendents – including those in Fayette and Wyoming counties – turned their attention to accommodating students and staff in distance learning.
On Saturday, the pandemic continued to chart record numbers, giving further shape to a rising surge that is spreading not just here in West Virginia but across the country.
On Saturday, the DHHR reported 1,153 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the state with 9,141 active infections – both records.
And there were more.
According to the DHHR report, a record 339 patients were hospitalized with Covid-19 and a record 104 in intensive care units, up 11 in the previous 24 hours.
While not a record, there were 34 patients for a second straight day on ventilators, feeding a trend that continued moving toward its record of 40 on Sept. 17.
The daily positive test rate jumped to 5.93 percent, pulling up the cumulative rate since the pandemic began here in March to 3.20 percent.
With 5,050 positive test results out of 77,095 labs received by the DHHR in the past week, West Virginia’s positive test rate factors out to 6.56 percent over the past seven days.
There were nine more deaths statewide, including an 87-year-old man from Summers County and a 61-year-old man from Greenbrier County, pushing the state total to 754, 72 in the past seven days.
Seeing the same trends at home as he is seeing elsewhere across the United States – “West Virginia, this thing’s bad, and it’s getting worse all across our land,” the governor said – Justice moved Friday to clamp down on the spread of the virus, calling on residents to wear a mask any time they are at an indoor business.
While the state has had a mandatory mask mandate since spring, Justice put law enforcement muscle behind his edict on Friday.
Businesses would need to enforce compliance with the mask mandate, the governor said, or risk losing their licenses. Patrons of those businesses were not immune. If a customer refuses direction to wear a mask while in a store, the governor said, then businesses should call the police, who could bring obstruction of justice charges.
“To our business owners, I am telling you straight up, the next thing that follows this is you know what and that is the shutting down of businesses,” Justice said.
Nationwide, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist said the months ahead looked “horrifying.”
The New York Times is reporting that more than 1,000 Americans are dying of the coronavirus every day on average, a 50 percent increase in the last month. Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Tennessee and Wisconsin have recorded more deaths over the last seven days than in any other week of the pandemic.
Twice this past week, the newspaper noted, more than 1,400 deaths have been reported in a single day.
“It’s getting bad and it’s potentially going to get a lot worse,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Times. “The months ahead are looking quite horrifying.”
On Friday, public health officials reported more than 181,000 new Covid cases across the country, yet another record. More than 245,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States as of Saturday night, according to a Johns Hopkins database. That is more than any other country and, experts say, the rate of new deaths is likely to accelerate in the coming weeks.
In the nine-county region that constitutes The Register-Herald’s primary market, new Covid cases are averaging nearly 100 per day. In the Saturday report, the region added a near record 153 cases, second only to the 158 added in the Thursday report.
The region’s 16.6 percent increase in cases this past week trails the state rate of 18.2 percent.
In raw numbers, Raleigh and Mercer counties, the most populous in the region, are leading all others in total cases and cases added in the past week.
Raleigh added 141 cases this past week, a 14.8 percent increase, pushing its total to 1,092. Mercer added 128 cases over the past seven days, a 14.3 percent jump to a total of 1,024.
But some of the sparsely populated counties are putting up comparatively big numbers, too. McDowell County added 39 cases on Saturday alone and 109 over the past week – the last a 65.3 percent increase to its cumulative number, now at 276.
Summers and Wyoming counties, too, have registered additions above state average – Summers up 18.9 percent this past week, Wyoming up 18.7 percent.
Cases per county: Barbour (258), Berkeley (2,162), Boone (501), Braxton (92), Brooke (359), Cabell (2,087), Calhoun (43), Clay (94), Doddridge (86), Fayette (942), Gilmer (174), Grant (229), Greenbrier (298), Hampshire (202), Hancock (356), Hardy (144), Harrison (853), Jackson (505), Jefferson (907), Kanawha (4,604), Lewis (192), Lincoln (337), Logan (901), Marion (566), Marshall (747), Mason (234), McDowell (276), Mercer (1,024), Mineral (539), Mingo (815), Monongalia (2,706), Monroe (289), Morgan (204), Nicholas (248), Ohio (965), Pendleton (83), Pleasants (55), Pocahontas (80), Preston (321), Putnam (1,332), Raleigh (1,092), Randolph (535), Ritchie (88), Roane (130), Summers (201), Taylor (216), Tucker (74), Tyler (105), Upshur (350), Wayne (778), Webster (44), Wetzel (314), Wirt (65), Wood (1,495), Wyoming (495).