We are facing the peak of demand on our health care system in the next few days, both in our state and our country.
The good news is that due to the committed cooperation and action of our citizens, West Virginia is flattening the curve and saving the lives. We are doing well.
The new projection from the University of Washington is that continuing our physical distancing and staying at home, that West Virginia will now tragically lose 74 people by August 4, and will now only need 55 ventilators and 233 beds. We currently have sufficient surge capacity.
By the actions we've taken as a state, we have saved lives, maintained our healthcare resources and protected our essential workers, first responders and healthcare workers.
Why have things moved in such a great direction?
Most importantly, it is commitment of the citizens of West Virginia. It is the power of community.
Our job is not done. Using a football analogy, we are ahead by a couple of touchdowns coming to the end of the first quarter. But there is still a long game to play.
What is the plan for the second quarter?
It is to begin the steps to the new normal. Towards coming back out again. Thoughtfully. With discipline.
To balance still protecting our vulnerable and reactivating our lives.
Opening up our neighborhoods. Reactivating jobs. Safely. Carefully.
What does this look like?
We need to continue physical distancing and staying at home for now. Staying home when you don’t need to be out, particularly for our vulnerable population. Just like we are doing. It is the most powerful cure to controlling the rate of spread of the virus that we have.
As a state, we can move to our next phase of "new normal" when the rate of new positive cases consistently declines over two weeks, or 14 days. This is the time window of full impact of effective physical distancing.
Right now, we are still seeing COVID-19 positive cases in many of our counties.
When we see this consistent decline in new cases, we will likely ask our citizens to wear masks or face coverings and stay physically distanced as much as possible. We will still recommend limiting gatherings of people to 25 or less.
We will need to move from measures that we ask everyone to do, to expanding testing and test all West Virginian citizens with symptoms, and begin to do surveillance each in areas of higher clusters of positivity. It is possible that some areas will need to return to home stay until the areas reduce these new cases.
Once we identify new cases, we will need to quarantine them and their key contacts (who will also be tested) to limit spreading from new sources. Thus, our epidemiology capabilites will need to expand and case investigation at the county and state levels will be a big part of Phase 2 - or the second quarter - strategy.
What we continue to do is buy time and protect our citizens from COVID-19.
The more time we buy and the more we keep the curve flattened, the more lives we save.
The more time we buy, the more ready we are to provide all essential workers with personal protective equipment, expand testing, expand public health capability, and implement surge plans.
Buying more time keeps West Virginians safe until there is a vaccine or drug treatment.
Until then, we are in a chess match with COVID-19 - learning new strategies from this able opponent.
We must be anticipating and striking first, instead of retreating and reacting.
Using our greatest power and capability.
Margaret Mead said, Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.