CHARLESTON — The fact that no West Virginians were among the nearly 3,500 people confirmed to have coronavirus in the U.S. as of Monday afternoon does not mean state residents can let down their guard in taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus, according to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
“I don’t want anyone in our state getting a false sense of security,” Manchin said during a conference call with West Virginia reporters on Monday.
Citing a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Manchin said West Virginia has the nation’s highest likelihood — 51 percent — for residents 18 and older becoming seriously ill after becoming infected with the coronavirus. The high rate is due mainly to the state having one of the nation’s largest populations of elderly residents, along with one of the largest populations of residents under age 60 with health issues.
“With only 84 tests given and 80 of them evaluated so far in a state where more than one million people are at risk, we shouldn’t be naive enough to think we’ve been spared,” Manchin said.
Between 20 and 63 cases have been confirmed in each of the states bordering West Virginia.
Although Vice President Mike Pence had announced that millions of test kits were to be distributed nationwide starting last week, none have turned up in West Virginia, Manchin said, with the exception of one kit, capable of testing a maximum of 500 samples, that arrived early this month.
“My brother [John] is a doctor in Farmington, and he said there are none in his area,” he said. “I’ve been speaking with health care people across the state, and everyone’s saying they don’t have test kits yet.”
Manchin said he fears the state will not be able to keep ahead of the epidemic “if we only have 500 tests for the whole state and have only evaluated 80 of the 84 tests so far.” The situation, he said, is “ridiculous. There’s no excuse for it.”
Manchin said he was anxious for the Senate to approve the $1 billion resolution passed by the House last Friday, requiring private and public insurers to cover the costs of COVID-19 diagnostic tests and to provide coverage for hospital treatment of those carrying the disease.
“It’s not a perfect piece of legislation,” Manchin said of the House bill. “But we need to look at what the House passed and move it forward as fast as we can, so we can bring help to the people in the trenches.”
Manchin said he was puzzled why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., adjourned the Senate last Thursday.
“If we had remained in session, we could have had a leap start on getting this thing passed. Instead, he sent a bunch of senators, whose average age is 62, off to do what they shouldn’t do — flying back home on Thursday, and then back here again tonight,” Manchin said.