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Virus cases spike as West Virginia heads into Election Day

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia heads into Election Day amid a record spike in confirmed cases of the coronavirus as Gov. Jim Justice continued his aggressive push for residents to get tested. Health officials reported 2,245 new positive cases in the state for the seven days ending Sunday. That’s a 46% increase from the previous week and a 30% jump from the previous record of 1,723 confirmed cases set two weeks ago.

The state has set weekly high marks in three of the past four weeks. Aug. 30 marked the first time during the pandemic that the state surpassed 200 positive virus cases in one day. Last week, the state flew by 200 cases each day and surpassed 300 cases four times, including a record 388 cases Wednesday. At least 458 people have died from the virus in West Virginia. The number of people in hospitals hit a record 254 on Sunday, according to health officials.

In his last news conference before the election, Justice on Monday again focused on his plea for residents to get tested for the virus in order to limit its potential spread to others. The virus usually results in only mild to moderate symptoms, but is particularly dangerous for the elderly and people with underlying health problems. “We’ve got to really bear down and get tested,” Justice said. “I need you to do that really, really, really bad.”

Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said he knew of no virus-related issues at schools being used as polling places Tuesday.

The only mention from Justice about Tuesday’s election was urging residents in the final minute of his news conference to “exercise the right of who we are as Americans” and vote. His Democratic challenger, Kanawha County commissioner Ben Salango, had rallies scheduled Monday — with masks required — in Fairmont and Charleston. Voters looking to avoid lines on Tuesday responded with a large number of mail-in absentee ballots or went to polling places in droves during the 10-day early voting period that ended Saturday.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, as of Sunday there were 136,005 absentee ballots cast and about 253,000 residents voted early in-person. That represents about 31% of the state’s 1.27 million registered voters. By comparison, the entire voter turnout for the 2016 general election in the state was 57%. The recent early in-person vote surpassed the 209,777 such votes in the 2016 general election. Not as many absentee ballots were cast as the June primary, when there were more than 224,000. Ballot applications were mailed to all registered voters for the primary but were sent only to people who requested them for the general election.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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