Justice raises more concerns about nursing home COVID-19 outbreaks

Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday that not allowing bands to perform at high school football was a miscommunication.

CHARLESTON — As Gov. Jim Justice reported another 11 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, he said everyone must be more diligent in protecting the elderly from the virus.

“The overwhelming majority [of deaths] have come out of the nursing home community,” he said. “The elderly are the most vulnerable. I urge all West Virginians to realize the impact of this virus…“

Justice said during his daily pandemic briefing that “we need everybody working as diligently as they can,” especially about taking a vacation to Myrtle Beach, where the source of several outbreaks have been traced.

“Please think really, really hard about going to Myrtle Beach,” he said. “But if you do, come back and quarantine and get tested. Please look at everywhere you go [not just Myrtle Beach] and what you do.”

Justice said the state has 39 outbreaks at long-term care facilities, with Mercer County’s Princeton Health Care Center and Monroe County’s Springfield Center among the more serious ones.

The 22nd death among residents at PHCC was reported Wednesday with 22 cases still active among residents and staff, as of Monday. Springfield has seen one confirmed death of a resident with 77 active cases among residents and staff as of Tuesday.

“We have got to get things some way stabilized and back to normal at these nursing homes,” he said, comparing trying to handle positive cases in long-term care facilities to opening a can of nightcrawlers, when you think you have them contained they will slip out quickly.

“We continue to run to the fire,” he said of the rapid response team. “But we need everybody working as diligently as they can.”

Justice also said there have been four church outbreaks in four counties with 29 total cases.

One of those churches is in Monroe County, he said, but did not specify the church.

“Follow the guidelines,” he said, urging any elderly church member to listen to services online if possible. “We are a long ways from being out of the woods.”

Although statewide, the overall statistics continue to stabilize, 145 new cases were reported Wednesday.

“That’s way too many,” he said. “From the standpoint of so many things it doesn’t look all that bad. But we are talking about 11 families [since Monday] who have lost a loved one.”

On the issue of high school bands playing at football games, Justice said he did not have any input from the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission Monday when the governing body made the decision to not allow bands to perform at games.

That is why he immediately intervened when he learned of the decision, he said, and asked the WVSSAC to work with health experts and the Department of Education to find a way to make it happen, and they did.

The decision was reversed Tuesday and high school bands will be allowed to perform with new approved guidelines.

“From my standpoint, it makes no sense whatsoever to me that we have kids out there playing football [with the close contact] and we can’t send our bands out there and let them perform,” he said, adding that is why he told everyone to “stop and try to get this done.”

Justice said he is not throwing the WVSSAC “under the bus” on the decision because the organization does a “wonderful job.”

“They were innocently moving in the wrong way at WVSSAC,” he said.

Cheerleaders and the bands auxiliary groups will also be allowed to perform at high school football games.

Attendance at these games is primarily limited to family members of the football team and staff, the band and other performers.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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