West Virginia: Haven from Coronavirus?

As of this writing West Virginia is the only state in the country with no confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The key word here is “confirmed.” As Governor Jim Justice put it, “It has to be here. We just haven’t found it yet.”

Currently, 84 people in the state have been tested, with 80 negatives and 4 tests pending. Officials say they are working hard to expand testing as quickly as possible.

I have seen heard and read some hopeful (or uninformed, depending on how you look at it) comments that West Virginia might not experience the levels of contagion other areas have seen, due to its sparse population and relative isolation in comparison to other states.

These comments show an ignorance of some rather unpleasant facts.

In yet another “West Virginia is number one but not in a good way” news article, a recent Kaiser Foundation study indicates West Virginia has a greater number of adults at risk than any other state — 51 percent of adults, as a matter of fact.

West Virginia has the most smokers of any state. It also has the highest death rate in the country from diabetes and some of the highest death rates from heart disease, cancer and respiratory illness.

People who fall into any of these categories are more likely to die from the coronavirus, especially if they are 65 and older — and 20 percent of the population is in that age group.

There is a bit of good news among the gloom and doom. Overall, West Virginia has a higher ratio of beds to population than most other states. Many hospitals in the state are working hard to acquire extra ventilators, protective gear, create emergency staffing schedules, and even cordon off areas now to handle a future influx of patients.

Unfortunately, residents in more remote areas of the state have no easy access to these hospitals. They are therefore much less likely to seek acute care should they become sick or even very seriously ill.

It’s a virtual certainty the coronavirus is already here but hasn’t been detected yet. 84 people tested out of a population of nearly 1.8 million is just the barest statistical blip.

So, we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back too much. It’s better to assume the virus is here and take appropriate measures rather than to live in a fantasy of being the country’s only safe haven from the pandemic.

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