CHARLESTON — West Virginia Governor Jim Justice finished the week by providing daily press briefings in order to keep the state informed of the latest news and information.
Before his Thursday briefing, Governor Justice was in a meeting with President Donald Trump and other state governors regarding the stimulus package and supply requests. Justice reported that the stimulus package passed through the Senate 96-0 and moved on to the House for a Friday vote.
The House approved the CARES Act on Friday, passing the historic $2.2 trillion economic relief package. The bill will now go to President Trump’s desk for him to sign. According to the 1600 Daily, “American families, healthcare workers, and small businesses will get the economic support they need to get through this challenging time. That includes $1,200 payments to qualifying Americans, $100 billion in direct support for hospitals, and over $370 billion to small business owners to keep their employees on the payroll.”
Justice reiterated that West Virginians should not panic and encouraged the Mountain State to be smart and stay strong. He reported at the Thursday briefing, 51 cases tested positive in the state, including 20 residents and eight staff of the nursing home in Monongalia County. The official number reported by the WV DHHR jumped to 76 by Thursday night.
Justice addressed the two false coronavirus death reports during Friday’s briefing. “I am now initiating additional safeguards to make sure, surely to the Lord above, that we can get it right, that someone has either passed on or not. There’s plenty of chaos out there but this is inexcusable in my book,” Justice said.
The Governor declared Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia University’s Vice President and Executive Dean for Health Services, the West Virginia COVID-19 Czar, for his work to combat the virus since day one. Marsh reported that as of Thursday, the state has stabilized to 5 percent of the tests being positive. “That is a very good sign that we are doing the right things as a state and the citizens are staying home, social distancing, washing their hands, not touching their face and helping others do the same thing. We don’t know yet that we have absolutely flattened the curve, but we’ve bought ourselves more time,” Marsh proclaimed. The COVID-19 Czar continued, “Even though we are doing very well and I’m really proud of the effort of citizens and they coming together as West Virginia does, West Virginia strong, we can’t get complacent and we know that this is a longer process and we need to stay together, we need to stay focused, but if we do the right things, I sincerely believe that we can be the model for the rest of the country.”
On Friday, Marsh reiterated past advice: Stay at home. Go out for essentials only. If you go outside, keep your distance, wash your hands often and don’t touch your face.
Justice also reported that the state received 55,000 surgical masks on Monday from the 100,000 previously requested. Jeff Sandy, WV Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) Secretary, later reported in length, stating that all 55 counties should have received their portion by overnight mail or in-person pick up at the Capital. He stated clearly that these masks are for the city police officers, county police officers, paid and volunteer fire departments and emergency managers, as well as an additional 10,000 for correctional officers and 22,000 taken to the National Guard warehouse for the Department of Health and Human Resources. As of the 7 a.m. report, he said no employee or inmate has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Justice touched Thursday on how the state may look “like a safe haven” by those in other areas. However, he tells those who may be coming from a hot spot to quarantine for 14 days in order to see if they have contracted the virus, before it spreads further throughout the state. “If you don’t abide by the recommendations that have been told to you, then I’m going to try any and every way I can to protect our citizens from a possible transmission that you may bring to us,” Justice warned.
Thursday, Ed Gaunch, West Virginia Department of Commerce, talked about Workforce West Virginia handling the unemployment claims. He reported that 41,549 initial claims for benefits and over 10,000 low earning claims had been processed since the executive order was signed on March 19. He then told viewers they can apply at uc.workforcewv.org or call 1-800-252-JOBS (5627). They also can email questions to [email protected] If the claim is filed late in the week, the benefits may not come until the next week, along with that week’s claim.
Major General James Hoyer, of the West Virginia National Guard, reported Thursday that 160 additional workers are working, with 19 as liaisons in other states and county governments. Hoyer applauded Gassaway’s food bank for making 1,073 30-day food packs for families. He also reported that State Superintendent Clayton Birch is working with local school superintendents to assure the children are fed, since the school closures were extended until April 20.
Friday, Hoyer reported 250 personnel were on duty, supporting the efforts. He reported that the National Guard is working with higher education to find a new material for producing new masks and decontaminate used masks. “We have to focus down as citizens on this over the next several days. We have a unique window of opportunity here and if we follow the guidelines as Dr. Marsh said, we believe we can continue to flatten the curve in the state of West Virginia,” Hoyer said.
Thursday, Secretary Bill Crouch, of the WV Department of Health and Human Resources, gave important phone numbers and said anyone who needs help can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The National Disaster Distress Helpline is 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746. Text or call 211 for information and it will connect to the appropriate source. Crouch addressed abuse and neglect issues in the midst of the quarantine period on Friday, noting many cases are reported by teachers and other childcare providers. Crouch provided the centralized hotline number 1-800-352-6513, for those who suspect any abuse towards a child or vulnerable adult. Crouch also reported that WIC benefits are now available through phone.
Mac Warner, West Virginia Secretary of State, explained information on how voters can still cast a ballot in the upcoming election amidst the coronavirus outbreak. “If you have concerns about the coronavirus, every voter in this state is eligible to vote an absentee ballot and to be fair, we are going to be sending out applications, not ballots, but applications to every one of those 1.2 million registered voters,” Warner said. On the application, fill out the information and check the block “the COVID-19 medical reason” and send the application back. The local County Clerk will then send the ballots out. Applications will be sent out the week of April 6. Early voting is still April 29 to May 9 and Election Day remains May 12 if any wish to vote in person. For any additional information, visit GoVoteWV.com.
Thursday, Governor Justice also touched on acknowledging those who are homeless. He assured viewers that he is working towards finding a way to take care of them, as well. Justice also granted a free 30-day period for those who would like to fish, without having to obtain a license.
Unrelated to COVID-19, Justice opened Friday’s briefing by reporting that Elkin’s Police Officer Senior Patrolman Daniel Sayre was shot during a Thursday night arrest. The Governor said he is in good condition at Ruby Memorial Hospital now and the suspect was apprehended.
“Stay the course. Stay away from one another. Listen to everything that’s been said to you, because we’re making headway but we’re a long way from being over this,” Justice closed.