CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice began Wednesday’s briefing once again lamenting over the growing number of COVID-19-related deaths in the state. The governor announced the 55 latest deaths that have been confirmed by the DHHR in the past two days. This brings the state’s death toll to 1,318.
“1,318 great, great West Virginians. Please don’t forget them,” Justice said after announcing the latest deaths.
Gov. Justice annoucned a record-setting 797 West Virginians are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 and 209 are currents in ICUs.
“Most all of our counties are in the red or the orange, and again; I remind everyone over and over and over that if you are 65 years of age, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out, you are the target of this killer,” Justice said.
Gov. Justice then said that “We have got to find a way to get our kids back in school.” The Governor said that in 2020 the COVID-19 transmission rates during the first semester was .02% among students and .3% among staff members.
Justice said the transmission rates among staff members is significantly higher, and that in schools social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines must be upheld. The Governor said “We’re absolutely failing” when speaking about distanced learning in the state, saying that according to the Department of Education, one third of all students are receiving failing grades in at least one of their core classes in the first semester.
“The virtual learning models do not work for most students without condsistent live engagement from a teacher or student’s own school,” Justice said.
Justice also said the DHHR reports there has been a reduction of Child Protective Services (CPS) referrals by 50-54% per month. Justice said this means that kids who are having “awful, awful” things happening to them aren’t even having those incidents reported now.
Justice said that the transmission rates for students 15 years and older is significantly higher than those who are under 15. The Governor then announced that all West Virginia Elementary and Middle schools will reopen to in-person learning on Jan. 19. High schools that are not in the red will also reopen on January 19.
Justice said that high school students will continue to adhere to the state’s color-coded map, which will continue to be tweaked. The Governor said in-school learning will be offered to all counties that appear as orange on the map. High schools will continue to not attend school when they are in the red. Virtual learning will still be offered to students in the state.
Gov. Justice then announced that the state will offer vaccines to all teachers, staff and service personnel who are over the age of 50 over the next “two to three weeks.” Gov. Justice said once that is finished, all the teachers, staff and service personnel who are under the age of 50 will be offered the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Governor urged all teachers, staff and service personnel to get the vaccine once it is offered to them.
Justice then announced that starting immediately on Wednesday, the state will begin vaccinations to the general population over the age of 80.
“Doses are being delivered as we speak to 82 organizations including primary care physicians, health clinics and local health departments designated to those 80 and older. And vaccinations will begin as soon as today,” the Governor said.
Justice said the state is also planning to hold vaccination events for West Virginians ages 80 and older at National Guard Armories or other selected sites around the state. Times and locations will be announced as soon as the details are finalized, the Governor said. Vaccines will be available on a “first come first serve basis.”
‘The faster we can get the shots in those 80-year-old-plus, then we double back and get those 70-year-old-plus, then we double back and get those 60-year-old-plus,” Justice said.
Justice emphasized that the number of vaccines administered at these events will depend on the amount available at each event.
“We cannot do more than what we have,” Justice said. “But, we can get them out fast and get them to the people that need them the most and absolutely cry to the mountaintops to get more, to get more. The faster we get them out, the more we cry and the more we get here.”
Justice said that next week, vaccination events will likely be held at three-four National Guard Armories in the state.
Gov. Justice said that West Virginia continues to lead the nation in distribution of the vaccine, saying the state has administered 43% of the vaccinations it has received. “It’s not good enough to me, anyway you cut it. No matter how hard we’re trying, it’s just not good enough”
Gov. Justice said it is important to administer more of the vaccines so the state can continue to request more from the federal government and in turn, get more West Virginians vaccinated.
Justice said the priorities of vaccination distribution is to reduce the rate of hospitalizations, reduce the death rate, protect our most vulnerable population and maintain acute critical care services.
West Virginia also leads the country in nursing home vaccinations and was the first state to finish vaccinating all of its long-term care facilities. All 214 facilities in the state were completed by Wednesday morning, the Governor announced.
The Governor then once again urged West Virginians to get vaccinated when they get the opportunity to do so, and to ignore ridiculous conspiracy theories, saying “People say ‘Well, you’re gonna grow a third arm, you’re gonna grow antlers,’ I mean, give me a break,” Justice said. “For crying out loud, take the vaccine…. You’ve gotta take this vaccine”
The governor then announced that the funds are available to test all students, faculty and staff members as they return from their holiday break. Justice said that while they are not sure if they have the logistics or the funds to test everyone on a weekly basis, they are continuing to work to find a way to do so.
Gov. Justice said there are currently 120 COVID-19 outbreaks at long term care facilities in the state, with 16 outbreaks at churches in 13 counties. These counties include Greenbrier, Harrison, Jackson, Marion, McDowell, Mineral, Mingo, Monongalia, Nicholas, Raleigh, Summers, Upshur and Wyoming counties.
Justice said the number of COVID-19 cases in correctional facilities have greatly increased. There are currently 634 inmate cases, according to Gov. Justice
Justice also announced that the state will be allocating $3.5 million of CARES Act money to WVU Medicine in connection to the Morgantown Community Resources Ramada Inn Project.
The beginning of winter sports in West Virginia has been pushed back to March 1, Justice announced.
Governor Justice said there are no current announcements concerning the start of spring sports in the state.