CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dr. Clay Marsh has been temporarily "loaned" to West Virginia state government to head the ongoing COVID-19 response, Gov. Jim Justice said during a Thursday afternoon press conference.
Marsh typically serves full time as vice president and executive dean of Health Services at West Virginia University.
Justice said officials had solicited the university to bring Marsh on as the "coronavirus czar," and he was "really pleased" with university President E. Gordon Gee's decision to permit the temporary move.
“Making Clay Marsh a czar is just appropriate, that’s all I can say,” Justice said.
As of Wednesday evening, the last time the Department of Health and Human Resource's site was updated, West Virginia had 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Twenty-eight of those cases were at the Sundale nursing home in Morgantown — 20 patients and eight staffers, Justice said.
Marsh called it "quite an honor to be included with this esteemed group" of state officials tasked with responding to the spread of the virus and containing it.
“This is a big job, and this is an unprecedented time,” Marsh said. “... I want to say in this new temporary role that I am fulfilling to try and help our state …. that I feel we have a tremendous team.”
Although the amount of confirmed positive cases has increased, Marsh said the rate had stabilized at about 5% of tests returning positive results over the last 24 hours. Marsh said that's a "very good sign we’re doing the right things as a state."
“We don’t know yet if we’ve absolutely flattened the curve, but we’ve bought ourselves more time” to prepare for the ongoing fight, he said.
During the conference, Justice also spoke hopefully about what the $2.2 trillion aid package passed by the U.S. Senate Wednesday night could mean for cash-strapped West Virginians at a crucial moment. Receipt of the aid money, he said, is "not going to move like government has moved in the past, like a snail. This is going to move at light speed.”
Once received, Justice said, the funds could “maybe take a ton of stress” off both businesses and workers. He noted that he "can’t promise it will make every single one of us whole,” but said the money should at least be an improvement.
Department of Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch said during Thursday's conference that since Justice issued his March 19 executive order regarding the provision of unemployment benefits, the state has received 41,549 initial benefits claims and more than 10,000 low earnings claims.
Follow staff writer Lindsay Renner-Wood on Twitter @LindsayRenWood.