SCARBRO, WV (WVNS) — In his press conference, Governor Jim Justice said West Virginia has possibly the highest risk population when it comes to COVID-19. This includes the elderly and people with existing respiratory conditions.

According to the CDC, in West Virginia one in five coal miners who worked in mines for at least 25 years have black lung.

Dr. Doyle, family physician at New River Health Associates, said at New River Health Association in Scarboro, WV doctors see many patients with chronic health conditions, who could be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including patients with black lung, a disease that affects coal miners.

“They have a reduced resistance to the virus and so they are more likely to get into serious problems in their lungs and respiratory failure than other people,” Doyle explained.

So they are taking extra steps to protect their most vulnerable patients, as well as themselves. Angela Barker, Chief Medical Officer of New River Health Association, said this means screening people at the door, not letting anyone in who has a fever, symptoms or possible exposure.

“We do not want our patients with multiple conditions to come in to be in the waiting room to expose them to any unnecessary illnesses. We want them to call our phone number first and we’re going to triage them over the phone,” Barker said.

Doyle, who primarily works with black lung patients, said it also means closing the breathing center and checking up on patients over the phone. Doyle said going to a doctors office or emergency room right now could put patients at greater risk of getting COVID-19. He encouraged lung patients to stay home, increase fluids, and call your doctor if you are sick.

“Now it’s safer for you and for us to talk to you over the phone, treat you over the phone, call in your medicine, than it is for you to come in,” said Doyle.

Patients at New River Health Association can still contact the doctor on call 24/7. Doyle said reasons to go to the hospital would be if you have fever above 101, trouble breathing, or are unable to keep oxygen saturation above 90 percent.