HUNTINGTON — As the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to grow in the region and the world, Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday extended the closure of schools in West Virginia until April 20.
Justice said he was still hopeful that students in West Virginia would be able to return to school to finish out the year, but it wasn’t time yet. Schools were initially closed until at least March 27. Schools in Ohio are closed until April 3, and in Kentucky until April 17.
Justice also announced he was extending the state income tax filing deadline to July 15, which is the new federal deadline, and waiving penalties for personal property tax fines.
The announcements were made as the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to rise in the region.
West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources reported as of 9 p.m. Wednesday that the state had 52 positive cases and 19 pending. New cases were identified in Hancock, Jackson, Kanawha, Logan, Marion, Monongalia, Ohio, Preston, Putnam and Raleigh counties.
The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department announced Wednesday that a resident of a Charleston nursing home had been diagnosed, making it the second nursing home in the state working to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The individual who tested positive in Logan County is an elderly person with mild symptoms, according to Steve Browning, director of the Logan County Health Department. The person is from Logan and recently returned from traveling out of state.
DHHR lists the cases by county of residence of the patient. While there are no confirmed cases in Cabell County, a bordering county has one now. A first case was announced by officials in Lawrence County, Ohio, on Wednesday.
The person is staying at home for 14 days and has no need, as of yet, to be hospitalized, said Dr. Colton Copley, an emergency room doctor at Cabell Huntington Hospital and a Lawrence County commissioner.
“We know this is a serious illness,” Copley said Wednesday. “I am telling people to stay home. It’s the best way to stay safe.”
Cases in Ohio continue to increase. Gov. Mike DeWine reported Wednesday afternoon that the state had 704 confirmed cases, with 10 deaths and 75 people in intensive care units. West Virginia DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said Wednesday the department was working on a new dashboard system to include more information, like ICU stats, for the state. He said they would also put out more updates each day.
One of the Ohio deaths was a woman from Gallia County. Media outlets reported she had been diagnosed in Cabell County, though the Cabell-Huntington Health Department declined to comment.
When pressed on whether the woman or any patient with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 was being cared for in either of the Huntington hospitals, both the health department and Mountain Health Network declined to comment, with the hospitals deferring to the health department. Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director at the health department, said he would never release information that could possibly identify a patient, despite the fact that other health departments and hospitals have been more forthcoming with information. He said the hospitals frequently care for infectious patients, and they don’t announce those.
However, Kilkenny said residents of Cabell County should realize this coronavirus does not care about county and state lines, and residents need to continue to take the threat of the virus seriously.
“We are no longer preparing for this,” Kilkenny said. “The risk is real. It gets closer and closer all the time. The health department is working collaboratively with some other health departments to assist them in their investigations with any Cabell residents that may have been in contact with COVID cases. It’s that close. It’s that serious.”
Kilkenny said people need to continue to do what they’ve been stressing repeatedly: Wash your hands and stay home if you can.
Good practices like social distancing and washing hands could help keep the Tri-State from seeing a spike in cases like those being seen in New York, Copley said.
If a surge does occur, the Huntington District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating alternative care sites throughout the state. Marshall University and West Virginia University have already agreed to permit the use of their dorms if necessary.
Health officials had fair warning about the virus, Copley said. “We’re seeing what’s happening due to lack of resources.
“We’re working hard at Cabell Huntington Hospital,” he said. “We have pooled our resources. We are talking to our contacts from around the country. We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear reported the state’s fifth death linked to coronavirus Wednesday as total statewide cases during the pandemic approached 200 despite a slight drop in the number of new cases from the previous day, according to The Associated Press.
There were 35 new cases in Kentucky, compared to 39 cases Tuesday — which was the single biggest one-day increase in the state, the AP reported.