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Doctor sees positive signs, but says there’s a long way to go

Marsh

CHARLESTON — Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s new coronavirus czar, said Thursday that efforts to slow the spread of the virus are showing some positive signs, but urged residents to continue to stay home and practice social distancing.

Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday that Marsh, a West Virginia University vice president and executive dean for Health Sciences, would be on loan to the state from WVU to become the first coronavirus czar. Marsh has been a frequent face at daily briefings, either in person or by phone.

“He’s been with us since Day 1. He has done an incredible job,” Justice said. “It gives us one more layer of expertise and one more layer of affiliation with hospital knowledge. I’m really pleased that Clay is going to come on board.”

Justice said Marsh would help coordinate the state’s coronavirus response with the Department of Health and Human Resources, the West Virginia National Guard and other state agencies.

Marsh said it was an honor to serve.

“I’m appreciative of Gov. Justice in having the faith and adding me to the team,” Marsh said. “I think as a team we are working really well, but this is a big job. This is an unprecedented time.”

Marsh said the number of positive cases of the coronavirus continue to climb, although there has been no spike in the number of cases. As of press time, there were 76 confirmed coronavirus cases statewide as reported to DHHR by county health departments, though some counties were reporting more cases than what was included in the DHHR totals. The DHHR coronavirus dashboard was last updated Thursday night.

So far, no deaths have been reported and 1,779 tests have come back negative for the virus, also known as COVID-19.

“Although our number of positive tests versus the total number of tests that we did went up over the last few days, it stabilized over the last 24 hours,” Marsh said. “About 5 percent of the tests that we did are positive. That is a very good sign that we are doing the right things as a state and the citizens are staying home and social distancing and washing their hands and not touching their face and helping others do the same thing.”

Justice signed an executive order Monday ordering state residents to stay at home. State officials have spent the last two weeks encouraging the public to practice social distancing, avoid large crowds, limit non-essential travel, wash hands and cover coughs and sneezes. The goal is what health officials call flattening the curve: slowing the spread of the virus over time to prevent a spike in patients with severe symptoms overrunning intensive care unit beds.

Marsh said it was too soon to say whether the stay-at-home order and other recommendations were helping flatten the curve in West Virginia, but he said the data gives him hope.

“We don’t know yet if we have absolutely flattened the curve, but we bought ourselves more time to do the work and preparation,” Marsh said. “Even though we’re doing very well, and I’m really proud of the effort of all our citizens. We can’t get complacent and we know this is a longer process and we need to stay together. We need to stay focused, but if we do the right things, I sincerely believe we can be the model for the rest of the country.”

“Our curve is not spiking, but it’s not exactly where we want it,” Justice said.

State officials are using this time to secure more supplies of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, biohazard suits, ventilators and other needed supplies.

Justice joined the governors of all 50 states on a teleconference Thursday with President Donald Trump. Justice said he made the case for why West Virginia must not be forgotten when it comes to supplies.

“We put up a substantial request for lots and lots and lots of supplies,” Justice said. “We’re still sourcing them all over the globe. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to obtain supplies and keep our head above water, but we also recognize wholeheartedly that our medical professionals are out there and our first-responders and we need to protect them.”

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, is working on logistics issues to bring in additional supplies and personal protective gear. Hoyer said 160 additional National Guard personnel are on duty.

As of Thursday, the guard delivered 30 powered, air-purifying respirator (PAPR) suits to West Virginia University Hospitals. PAPRs are reusable and provide filtered air through a mask for the user. Another 30 were being delivered to Charleston Area Medical Center and more will be distributed to other hospitals as they come in.

Hoyer also said the state has requested a minimum of 5 million surgical masks, 2.5 million N-95 surgical masks, 30,000 extraction kits and 150,000 transport media sets for coronavirus tests.

Just so people understand the magnitude of the logistics issues we’re attempting to work…I hope people understand we’re working diligently,” Hoyer said. “The Governor presses every day to make sure we’re working all the sources possible. We have a warehouse system in place that has equipment and supplies coming in. It will go out within less than a 24-hour period.”

“As my dad would always say, don’t confuse effort with accomplishment, but I promise you there is massive amounts of effort going in to obtain the needed supplies that you’re looking for,” Justice said.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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