CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday suspended state high school basketball tournaments due to concerns over the new coronavirus, just hours before he was supposed to take to the sidelines to coach a girl’s game.
The state has no confirmed cases of the virus as of Thursday night. Health officials said 12 people have been tested, with nine negatives and three tests still pending.
The suspension of the girl’s high school basketball tournament came as a game was underway in Charleston, with the crowd learning of the news through an arena loudspeaker during the second half. Some players were teary-eyed after the game ended, knowing their seasons could be over for the year.
Justice, who has sometimes been criticized for moonlighting as the Greenbrier East High School girl’s basketball coach, was set to lead the team in a Thursday night game. Of the decision to suspend the tournament, Justice said, “I don’t like it.” But, he added, it’s the right thing to do.
“In all honesty we’ve got to protect our people. We should still continue to live our lives as best we can, but we need to be smart,” he said.
The boy’s state tournament, which was set to start next week, also has been postponed indefinitely, Justice said.
Justice, a Republican, also imposed a ban on out-of-state and international travel for state employees. He asked West Virginians to reconsider non-essential travel outside of the state, warned against gathering in large crowds and requested that nursing homes limit visits, echoing similar precautions taken throughout the country.
“Fear is not going to be constructive here. But really just being totally aware and totally on guard and absolutely prudent in their thinking is how we need to be,” Justice said.
Surrounding states have taken similar steps to battle the virus. Kentucky’s governor urged churches to suspend services and nursing homes to limit visitors. Ohio’s governor declared a state of emergency after the state’s first cases were confirmed this week. Pennsylvania’s governor told tens of thousands of state workers to avoid out-of-state business travel and large gatherings.
The measures come as the NBA, NHL and entertainment hubs such as New York City’s Broadway theaters have shuttered due to coronavirus.
Justice did not have a timetable for when the girls tournament would resume, if at all. He suggested the games could take place at individual venues or with a limited number of fans in Charleston.
Undefeated Parkersburg Catholic was in the midst of beating Tucker County when the news came that the tournament was being suspended.
“I looked around and I saw some blank stares and I’m like, what’s going on?” Parkersburg Catholic coach Marty Vierheller said. “And we heard the announcement. You instantly go into shock mode. Then as a coach, you go into crisis management mode.
“I just told the young ladies that we’re going to go out and we have X-number of minutes left, and we’re going to make the most of the minutes that we have. We don’t know how the script is going to end. I don’t want to talk about it being the end right now.”
Player Madeline Huffman said she hopes her team is remembered as one of Parkersburg Catholic’s greatest.
“Obviously I want to seal the deal,” she said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
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