CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice began Thursday’s virtual COVID-19 briefing on a positive note, saying he “was tickled” that he had to report “only” 35 new deaths.
Justice also reported that the number of active cases in West Virginia have decreased nine of the last ten days. He also pointed toward a trend, illustrated below, of recovered cases going up and active cases going down.
Harrison, Marion, Monongalia counties have the highest COVID-19 rates in the state, Justice said and in response additional beds are being added at WVU Medicine’s Fairmont Medical Center. An additional 65 staff members will added to care for up to 42 patients at the hospital, Justice said. WVU Medicine’s Ruby Memorial Hospital, in Morgantown and United Hospital Center, in Bridgeport, have reached capacity, Justice said.
A WVU Medicine spokesperson issued the following statement: “We can confirm what the Governor said relative to the expansion at Fairmont, and we appreciate his support of our need to do so. It’s also very accurate to say that ICU bed capacity, as well as general hospital capacity, remains a significant and on-going challenge at Ruby due to COVID-19. We’ve had to defer many non-emergent surgeries to make beds available for COVID-19 patients.”
Justice announced that 15 community vaccination clinics will be held for up to 12,000 people who work in the healthcare field. Those clinics will be held on Friday and Saturday in Berkeley, Braxton, Cabell, Hancock, Hardy, Harrison, Kanawha, Logan, Mercer, Raleigh and Wood counties.
The governor also said that by February 1, the state’s community vaccination clinic model will be expanded to all 55 counties.
An hour after President Joe Biden was sworn in, Justice was on the phone with Biden’s new coronavirus czar Jeff Zients. Zients knew about West Virginia’s success with vaccinations, Justice said. The governor told Zients that West Virginia needs more vaccine doses. “He heard me very well,” Justice said. “We’ve got to get behind the efforts of our new president,” Justice continued.
The state doesn’t have enough doses to vaccinate all West Virginians 65 and above, but the state made the age change based on CDC recommendations, Gov. Justice explained.
Later Thursday, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin issued a statement on West Virginia’s need for more vaccine doses: “Our state needs vaccines, plain and simple. Today I spoke with General Gus Perna, Chief Operating Officer of Operation Warp Speed, to discuss the procurement and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Until the Biden Administration’s plan kicks in, General Perna assured me West Virginia should continue receiving no less than the doses it is currently receiving. Unfortunately, the press reports are accurate and there is no federal stockpile of vaccine doses. However, as the Biden Administration ramps up manufacturing, they expect to see an increase in the number of doses distributed to each state beginning in early February. As soon as vaccine doses come off the production line, the Biden Administration intends to ship them directly to states, in a transparent manner. They believe doses will steadily increase over the coming months ensuring more Americans and West Virginians can receive this vital vaccine. I will continue to advocate for more vaccine doses until West Virginia receives enough to vaccinate every patient that wants one.”
“I know people are calling like crazy and can’t get through,” Justice said in reference to vaccination appointment phone lines. He announced that the state will be launching an online statewide vaccine scheduling tool and phone line. The system, run by Everbridge, will go live on Monday, Jan. 25 at 8:00 a.m. If you are already registered with a local health department, you do not need to use the new tool and your priority will be maintained, state health officials said. West Virginia will be the first state to use the system, Justice said. The system costs $760,000 per year, which DHHR officials hope to be able to pay for with federal funding, they said.
Return to in-person learning controversy:
When asked for his response to the decision of three counties, Gilmer, Marion and Taylor not to return to in-person learning and legal actions filed by state teachers unions, Justice said: “I think that’s a mistake. We know that our kids need to be in school really bad. Are we just going to let a generation have a big link out of their chain? If you don’t want to go to work, I can’t help that.” Justice said he doesn’t know why teachers “cling to union leaders” and went on to say that “they can sue ’til the cows come home. I don’t know what else to do.”