'There’s a lot of concern here': West Virginia braces for spread of coronavirus

"There is a real fear we could lose a lot of our population," says a radio host.

April 7, 2020, 7:14 PM

West Virginia is the last state in the country to record a positive case of COVID-19, and the state's percentage of positive tests is among the lowest in the nation.

Residents, however, are still concerned about the virus.

“We have that elderly population," Chris Lawrence, morning host of 580 WCHS radio in Charleston, told ABC’s Cheri Preston on ABC Audio’s “Perspective” podcast.

"We're not the healthiest state in the country, obviously, a lot of people here smoke, a lot of people here suffer from black lung," Lawrence said. "Elderly folks that worked in the coal mines are now retired and they already have a lot of respiratory issues. And that is exactly the kind of folks that are most at risk with this COVID-19 virus. And there is a real fear that if it were to get out of control here in West Virginia that we could lose a lot of our population.”

As of Sunday there were fewer than 350 cases in the state, and reported deaths related to COVID-19 were till in single digits.

Although rural hospitals can face challenges in combating the virus, Lawrence said medical equipment and hospital beds have not been an issue so far in the mostly-rural state.

PHOTO: Dr. Lauren Miller, left, and Dr. Micah Moore look over notes at a Mobile Health Unit for drive-thru coronavirus testing at Robert C. Byrd Clinic on the campus of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, W.Va., March 24, 2020.
Dr. Lauren Miller, left, and Dr. Micah Moore look over notes at a Mobile Health Unit for drive-thru coronavirus testing at Robert C. Byrd Clinic on the campus of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, W.Va., March 24, 2020.
Jenny Harnish/The Register-Herald via AP

But "that’s not saying it won’t be in the future,” he said.

Right now, West Virginia is hoping its residents just practice good hygiene and social distancing.

The National Guard has been deployed throughout the state, and ventilators seem to be in good supply, according to Lawrence.

"I think the biggest concern here has just been keeping people away from one another,” he said.

Lawrence joked that there is no better place to socially distance than West Virginia, with its mountainous terrain and plethora of hiking trails. But he said that's made the state attractive to people from beyond its borders.

PHOTO: Members of the West Virginia National Guard's Task Force Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Response Enterprise wear protective clothing at an Eastbrook Center nursing home in Charleston, West Virginia, April 6, 2020.
Members of the West Virginia National Guard's Task Force Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Response Enterprise (CRE) (TF-CRE) wear protective clothing before testing residents for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at an Eastbrook Center nursing home in Charleston, West Virginia, April 6, 2020.
Us Army via Reuters

“Governor [Jim] Justice made that clear this week [when] he closed down all of the state park campgrounds and all private campgrounds, because we were finding that a lot of folks from some of the larger metropolitan areas were coming into West Virginia to ride this out until this is over," Lawrence said.

"Nobody is really invited to come in and enjoy it," said Lawrence, "but for those of us who are some of the chosen few that get to live here ... getting out, doing it, taking a hike, walking on our mountains, is one of the most enjoyable ways ever to socially isolate from everyone else.”

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