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Report: WV Population 'Most at Risk in U.S.' for Coronavirus

Some West Virginia counties are easing work requirements for SNAP recipients during the novel coronavirus outbreak. (Adobe Stock)
Some West Virginia counties are easing work requirements for SNAP recipients during the novel coronavirus outbreak. (Adobe Stock)
March 26, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With Gov. Jim Justice issuing a stay-at-home order this week to battle COVID-19, a new report warns West Virginia has one of the nation's most vulnerable populations for contracting the deadly virus.

The Kaiser Family Foundation study says the Mountain State's rapidly aging population makes it much more susceptible to the new coronavirus.

And Kelly Allen, director of policy engagement for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, cites another contributing problem -- that many younger people in the state have serious health issues.

"Our adults over 18 who are non-elderly also have a pretty significant share of underlying conditions -- like asthma, like diabetes, you know," she explains. "We have lots of folks who have occupational-related illnesses, like black lung, and all of those respiratory things put folks at higher risk."

The Kaiser report indicates more than 50% of West Virginians age 18 and older have a greater possibility of developing a more serious illness if they contract COVID-19. That's the highest percentage in the nation.

West Virginia didn't have its first coronavirus case until March 17, and was the last state in the U.S. to report an infection.

Since then, Allen says, officials have fast-tracked policy changes to address the growing critical situation. The state government is speeding up processing unemployment claims and easing restrictions for people on the SNAP or food stamp program, she says.

"In some counties in West Virginia, unemployed adults who don't have dependents have to meet work requirements to be on SNAP, and those provisions are going to be waived during the public health crisis," Allen states.

Public health groups are also urging Justice to further protect West Virginians' finances during the outbreak, by barring evictions and utility shut-offs, and boosting Medicaid support. So far, the governor hasn't addressed these issues.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV