Gov. Jim Justice came out of a conference call with governors and federal officials, including President Trump, believing there is enough latitude for individual states to navigate the next phases of coronavirus response.
“It’s really, really clear. It’s a good plan,” Justice said at a late afternoon news briefing.
Justice said of Trump, “Today you can see a different giddyup in our president’s step and he’s trying to restart this engine.”
President Trump told governors, according to The Washington Post, “You’re going to call your own shots.” He said that will mean a phased and deliberate approach to reopening their states.
But, Trump said at his own 6 p.m. briefing, “We’re opening up the country. We have to do that.”
The approach outlines three phases: “We are not opening up all at once,” Trump said, adding that some states will be able to open up earlier than others.
The president also said the focus will be on sheltering the highest-risk individuals, rather than a blanket quarantining of all citizens.
Before reopening, the federal guidelines suggest, states should first see a decrease in confirmed coronavirus cases over a 14-day period.
West Virginia’s most recent numbers show 739 confirmed cases among 18,306 total tests. That’s a rate of a little more than 4 percent.
West Virginia has recorded 13 deaths.
“It would be my goal to get us back to work, but — and here’s the but and this is the but, but, but — my number one job is to protect all of you as best I can,” Justice said during a Thursday afternoon news briefing that followed the conference call.
But Justice said he understands the economic pain — the businesses that have shut down and the thousands of workers suddenly unemployed.
That has happened as an outcome of the shutdown orders meant to keep people apart and slow the spread of the virus.
Of the government’s response, Justice said, “You’re dadgummed if you do and dadgummed if you don’t in this situation.”
Talk has picked up recently about transitioning from broad-based shutdown orders to a more nuanced approach that would allow for some reopenings — probably with conditions for the moment such as social distancing on job sites, workers wearing masks and increased cleaning schedules for workplaces.
“People would ask what are the most important parts of Phase 2. I have the most confidence that the health and safety of our citizens will be his top priority,” said Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus response coordinator.
“But similarly, we have to start our economy again. We have to get people back to work.”
Enhanced testing will be important, Marsh said, but so will new health habits.
“As long as you keep doing the things that you now know how to do very well — we are staying in when we don’t have to be out, we are staying distanced as much as we can — those are the reasons why we haven’t seen the kind of surge in West Virginia that many places have.”