W.Va. governor calls for more testing as prison cases rise

In this March, 23, 2020 file photo West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice issues a stay at home order, effective 8 p.m. Tuesday from his office in the WV State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Justice has expanded his aggressive plan to lift coronavirus restrictions after announcing new hotspots in the state’s eastern panhandle. The Republican governor on Thursday, May 21, 2020 said he is considering a mandatory face mask order for Berkeley and Jefferson counties after at least 35 new cases were reported there in a single day. He has dispatched the National Guard to the region to assess the situation.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Friday declined to strengthen coronavirus restrictions in two eastern panhandle counties where cases spiked this week.

The Republican governor said his administration discussed the hot spots in Berkeley and Jefferson counties with local health officials and determined that new cases were largely driven by increased testing.

“Everyone concluded at this time that things are OK. Things aren't high alert and things are OK,” he said, a day after publicly weighing a mandatory face mask order for the counties.

Berkeley and Jefferson reported at least 35 cases in a single day this week, Justice said. State health data shows the counties had almost 40 new cases each since Monday.

The state National Guard was dispatched to Berkeley and Jefferson and the state will help local health departments increase testing and contact tracing, officials said. The counties have long been considered as potential hot spots given their proximity to Washington, D.C., and its surrounding suburbs.

Justice's decision comes just after he moved forward with the most aggressive step of his strategy to lift virus restrictions. On Thursday, ahead of Memorial Day weekend, the governor allowed the reopening of indoor restaurants, tanning salons, malls, big box stores, all-terrain vehicle rentals, campgrounds, the Hatfield-McCoy trails, and whitewater rafting and zipline businesses.

He has also set the next steps of his plan, with swimming pools, bowling alleys, spas and video lottery retailers scheduled to reopen May 30. On June 5, movie theaters and casinos can open. Justice is stressing that people wear face masks as the reopenings occur.

Justice’s reopening plan depends on the cumulative positive test rate remaining below 3% for three days, reversing a previous goal of having the number of new cases drop for two weeks.

At least 71 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and about 1,600 have tested positive, state health data shows.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.

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