CHARLESTON — Governor Jim Justice resumed his daily press briefings via YouTube this week, providing continual updates on the state’s response efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Justice announced Tuesday, that West Virginia received a supply of the new coronavirus fighting drug Remdesivir made by Gilead, donated from the United States Department of Health and Human Resources. This drug will be tried on critically ill patients fighting the virus. State Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp elaborated on the news. She explained that earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the drug. At this time, they believe Remdesivir may shorten the illness duration. The DHHR has distributed the medication to hospitals for use, with protocol. “So, while there’s a lot yet to learn about the effectiveness of Remdesivir, it is good to have one more tool in our toolbox for use in seriously ill patients,” Slemp asserted.
Justice announced Wednesday that all West Virginians will receive a “West Virginia Strong” 30 percent discount, available June 1 to August 31, at all state parks lodging. Book online at WVstateparks.com with the promo code WVSTRONG.
Justice gave an update on the current state statistics as of Wednesday. The governor showed the WV Positive Growth Rate stands at 2.4 percent. The WV Cumulative Percent of Tests Positive was 1.92 percent. The state’s Fatality Rate currently stands at 4.46 percent. The 977 recovered cases exceed the number of active cases at 505. West Virginia has tested 4.5 percent of the state’s population, higher than the nation’s average of almost 3.7 percent. All of these statistics and more can be found on the dashboard at coronavirus.wv.gov. “You’ve done great, West Virginians. Nobody’s got a number like you’ve got. You’re sitting here in the East, you’re sitting in the hotbed, in the most vulnerable state of all. Absolutely with the highest obesity, the highest diabetes, the highest chronic lung and heart problems. Absolutely the state that could have been attacked like nobody’s business and look what you’ve done. You have absolutely knocked it out of the park, West Virginia. Keep it up,” Justice praised Tuesday.
Justice also announced Tuesday, that a male inmate and a part-time correctional officer at Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County both tested positive for the coronavirus. Justice assured they are testing all staff in the facility and everyone in the same block. If they find more, they will test the entire facility. Justice updated Wednesday that testing had started. Betsey Jividen, West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Commissioner, joined Justice’s panel to report that the two inmates and two staff members are in self-isolation and all test samples collected thus far are on their way to Charleston.
Justice announced free COVID-19 testing sites available in Cabell, Kanawha, Monongalia and Marion counties from May 22 to May 23 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
The governor reminded small businesses that the Paycheck Protection Program is still available and encouraged them to apply, even if those who need it do not believe they qualify. Email [email protected] or call (304) 347-5220 for information or directions on how to apply.
West Virginians were reminded again to get counted in the United States 2020 Census, as it is extremely important for the Mountain State. “Please. You can’t imagine how important that is to West Virginia. We’ve got to all be counted. Please help each other. We’ve really got to be counted or we’re going to shortchange ourselves tens and tens of millions of dollars,” Justice pleaded Tuesday.
Brian Abraham, General Counsel, also joined Justice’s panel Wednesday and elaborated on the 25-limit public gathering guideline. This guideline does not apply to essential businesses. Businesses with specific guidelines towards them, such as churches or restaurants, should follow their specific regulation. The public gathering limit was set for nonessential situations, such as a picnic.
Scott Adkins, West Virginia WorkForce Acting Commissioner, reported that WorkForce is currently working on dispersing the unemployment CARES Act benefits, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) to over 200,000 eligible state residents. He then explained a system issue for the PUA May 12 and May 13 payments, but assured the problem is fixed and payments are coming this week. He also explained that WorkForce is working to fix all overpayment issues at this time.
COVID-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh reminded residents to remain cautious once out-of-state residents start coming into the state on Wednesday. He also reported on a new study showing that if 80 percent of residents wear masks in public, the state should feel safe while we continue to reopen, and reported on some vaccine trials from Monderna in Massachusetts showing promising results.
Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bill Crouch gave an update on Tuesday, that 69 of the 94 assisted living facilities have started testing and over 2,800 tests have been completed. He also reported the progress of childcare center testing, with over 700 staff members completed and three positives discovered. On Tuesday, Crouch also explained to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cardholders that they are able to purchase food online through Walmart and Amazon with SNAP and/or West Virginia Works. As of now, the Elkins Walmart is available for pick-up. On May 21, Walmart will add more stores across the state.
Slemp also elaborated Tuesday on the results of the Executive Order to test all nursing homes. She stated that 71 percent of all nursing homes in the state had no positive tests in their facilities. Six percent reported positive cases and some reported large outbreaks. The remaining 23 percent found positive cases after the Executive Order was placed in effect.
Major General James Hoyer with the West Virginia National Guard updated Tuesday on the personal protection equipment production and the drive-through testing progress. He also assured that the feeding programs for vulnerable children and seniors will continue over the summer.