Gov. Jim Justice addresses situation at Huttonsville Correctional Center during Wednesday coronavirus press briefing


UPDATE (5/27/20 6:37 p.m.):

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Following his latest daily media briefing, Gov. Jim Justice and leaders with the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation learned Wednesday afternoon that a total of 102 inmates at the Huttonsville Correctional Center and Jail in Randolph County have now tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a press release, no additional staff members have tested positive. Additional tests from the facility remain pending at several labs across the state.

ORIGINAL STORY (5/27/20 3:18 p.m.):

Gov. Jim Justice held his daily press briefing Wednesday morning on the coronavirus pandemic.

Justice began by offering condolences in the death of a 75-year-old Preston County resident.

Justice then touched on the next stage of reopening, which will take place beginning May 30. This will include swimming pools; bowling alleys, pool halls, roller rinks and other places with indoor amusement; spas and massage businesses; and limited video lottery retailers. Movie theaters and casinos can reopen starting June 5.

Despite being allowed to reopen in the coming days, some swimming pools in north central West Virginia have announced their closure for the summer.

The outbreak of coronavirus at Huttonsville Correctional Center continues to be an issue among the state’s jails and prisons, as the number of positive cases there stands at 83. All of the staff members and inmates have been tested, according to Justice.

“We didn’t have a single, single test in all of our correctional facilities that tested positive up until just, all of a sudden, just a few days ago,” said Justice. “When it came to me that we were, we’re testing a block of prisoners, and, and testing all the staff that worked with those prisoners…that were exposed to one another in the block, you know, I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no, it’s not enough. We’re gonna test everybody in the whole facility.’ And so, we jumped on it, and we took off, tested everybody in the whole facility.

“At the end of the day, it will protect these people because, as I’ve said over and over, they deserve to be protected just as much as I deserve or all the rest of us deserves,” Justice added.

The outbreak at Huttonsville Correctional Center has affected the figures the state is tracking, something Justice said is important in being able to track and respond to such incidents as they happen. Justice touched on this when looking at the daily percent of positive cases.

“We started declining and working our way towards three, three, three, and then I said, ‘If we get to two, we’ll start reopening.’ We got into twos…and then you see at the end, you see this big, giant spike. Well, that’s Huttonsville. That’s what that is,” said Justice. “That’s the prison there, and that is exactly what we want the numbers to do and to show us.

“As that happens, it’s got to have happened somewhere,” Justice continued. “Now, if it were community spread that were all over the place, we’d have a big time problem with that area, and we would absolutely move to try to do something to change everything that was going on in that area and change very quickly. But, that spike right there leads us to run to the fire.”

West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Commissioner Betsy Jividen spoke about the situation at Huttonsville. She said positive inmates are being separated and moved as additional results are received. Jividen also stressed the efforts to protect the jail and prison populations in the state during the pandemic.

“We have been on this, and we have been proactively responding since the first part of March, since March 3,” said Jividen. “We immediately put staff and inmate screening into place in our facilities. Inmates who come into the regional jail facilities are quarantined for 14 days before they are allowed to go into general population.

“We’ve been following the CDC guidelines, you know, which have been the testing of symptomatic inmates. We have medical providers at all of our facilities. They have been the ones that have been determining who gets tested and who doesn’t,” Jividen explained.

Justice continues to highlight West Virginia’s role as a national leader in its approach to addressing the pandemic.

“West Virginia has been at the forefront of innovative response efforts,” said Justice. “Utilizing a whole of government approach, we have built a response cap—we have built response capabilities throughout the Mountain State. Together, we have found innovative ways to produce, now get this, ventilators, 3-D printed swabs, reusable medical gowns, hydrogen peroxide disinfecting systems and the West Virginia mask.”

Maj. General James Hoyer with the West Virginia Army National Guard mentioned several efforts underway to protect people from the virus, including reusable protective gowns and masks that are the equivalent of N95 masks.

“This, we’re gonna, uh, call the West Virginia mask,” said Hoyer. “This will be the equivalent of an N95 mask or higher, and we will be able to make those in the state of West Virginia and control our own supply of masks.

“Because they are reusable, we only, we have to keep a much smaller supply to meet our reserve, uh, numbers going forward,” added Hoyer.

Also at Wednesday’s press conference, Justice discussed the availability of funding for local governments in the state. Five cities and counties have received funding they applied for under the CARES Act, something Justice encourages them to continue to apply for, even if they are not successful on first or subsequent attempts.

“As of this morning, we have received seven completed applications. Five of those seven applications have now been paid in full, and, although the dollars are not significant, these were the dollars that were requested, and these five have been paid in full,” said Justice. “The others we are processing immediately, and we, we have paid 100% of what they app—applied for.”

Justice concluded the conference by commending residents for their efforts during the pandemic.

“You can’t imagine on the calls with the president, and over, over and over, you know, how they bring up what West Virginia has done. The state, the state that they tell the most vulnerable, the state with the most chronic illnesses, the state that is sitting right in the heart of all the population of this country, and yet, you have someway, somehow transformed a miracle, a miracle from God, that he has blessed you as West Virginians,” said Justice.

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