CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice joined West Virginia health leaders and other officials today for his latest daily press briefing regarding the State’s COVID-19 response.
SCHOOL READINESS UPDATE
During Friday’s briefing, Gov. Justice explained that, over the past month, the West Virginia Department of Education surveyed all 55 county school systems to determine what PPE and cleaning supplies they had on-hand and what was still needed to begin the school year as safely as possible for students, teachers, service personnel, and local communities.
Working with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia National Guard, all counties have been contacted and supplies have now either been sent or are in the process of being distributed.
“We can confidently, confidently say that all 55 counties will have what they requested in order to begin school,” Gov. Justice said. “As we go forward, we know we’re going to have more demand for equipment. But between the dollars that we have from a variety of grants, we’ll be able to cover all of that demand.”
As a reminder, Gov. Justice added that West Virginia county school districts have received more than $90 million from the federal and state government to use for school re-entry.
Additionally, the Governor announced that Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield is making a donation of more than $500,000-worth of PPE and cleaning supplies to the WVDE, which will further ensure that these supplies are available to every classroom teacher in West Virginia.
“I am thrilled about this because these supplies will help us be able to do more and more to help ensure the safety and wellness of our schools and our people,” Gov. Justice said. “On behalf of the Department of Education, the State of West Virginia, and all of us, we surely recognize and thank Highmark. It’s a wonderfully generous donation.”
VIRTUAL MEETING WITH SUPERINTENDENTS
Gov. Justice also announced that, following his briefing, he would host a virtual meeting with several County school superintendents from across the state to discuss school re-entry plans.
During the virtual roundtable, the Governor listened as the superintendents discussed the challenges they are facing ahead of the upcoming school year.
“We want to know exactly what we’re facing during this unprecedented time to make sure we are doing everything in our power to help,” Gov. Justice said.
“We’ve seen some really impressive plans from all of our counties for getting our students back to school,” Gov. Justice continued. “I’m so proud of all you’ve done during these difficult times. I know how much your students mean to each and every one of you. Your commitment to ensuring their safety is off-the-charts and I promise that we’ve going to do everything in our power to help you have as normal and productive of a school year as possible.”
FEMA GRANT TO PROVIDE PORTION OF UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
Also on Friday, Gov. Justice announced that FEMA has approved the State’s application for more than $68.2 million in grant funding, which will allow WorkForce West Virginia to continue providing extra unemployment benefits to residents across the state.
“I want to thank FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor and I look forward to working with him to implement this program,” Gov. Justice said. “I also want to thank President Trump for signing the Executive Order that authorized this funding.”
In total, West Virginians who are unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic will receive an extra $400 per week in unemployment benefits. Of that amount, $300 is being provided by the federal government, while the State is providing the final $100.
“I can proudly say that West Virginia is one of the only states in the country that is stepping up and saying, ‘No, we’re not going to only send the $300. We’re going to send the full $400,’” Gov. Justice said.
MON COUNTY BARS ON TRACK TO REOPEN MONDAY
Additionally Friday, Gov. Justice announced that Monongalia County bars remain on track to reopen on Monday, August 31.
The Governor first announced last week his intention to reopen Mon County bars on this date, provided that case numbers didn’t see a significant increase. Gov. Justice reported Friday that medical experts have confirmed that numbers in the region are stable at this time.
“That said, we have to stay very careful because we can’t afford for these numbers to slip,” Gov. Justice said. “So in order to reopen, these bars are going to have to follow extra-stringent safety guidelines.”
Click here to view the supplemental safety guidelines that will be required for the reopening of bars in Monongalia County.
“Our agencies are working on a plan to potentially expand their outdoor space capabilities, especially for the weekend crowds,” Gov. Justice said. “We’re working with them. I’m happy that our businesses are going to be able to go back and reopen. But we’re going to have to stay on top of things and, if we get to a point where we have to back off again, we will.”
Gov. Justice added that additional information about plans to expand bar capacity outdoors will be finalized and announced in the days ahead.
COVID-19 CASE NUMBERS UPDATE
Also on Friday, Gov. Justice reported that West Virginia’s statewide rate of COVID-19 transmission – also known as Rt – is currently tied for the 9th-best such rate in the country, at 0.91 today.
If a state’s Rt value is above 1.0, it means the virus will spread quickly, while values under 1.0 mean infections are slowing. West Virginia’s Rt has remained under 1.0 every day since July 6, 2020; the same day that the Governor announced his Statewide Indoor Face Covering Requirement.
The Governor also provided an overview of the latest County Alert System Map, reporting that zero counties in West Virginia are currently in red status. Four counties are currently in orange status, including Kanawha, Logan, Mingo, and Monroe counties. All others are green or yellow.
CORRECTIONS UPDATE; FIRST INMATE DEATH BELIEVED RELATED TO COVID-19
Additionally Friday, Gov. Justice reported that an inmate from the South Central Regional Jail died early Friday while at an outside hospital, and the preliminary assessment from health officials attributes the cause to complications from COVID-19.
The 40-year-old Wood County man was being held on federal charges. He had underlying medical conditions and tested positive for COVID-19 within the past week while at the hospital. His is the first COVID-19-linked death of an inmate ordered to a West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation facility since the start of the pandemic.
The inmate had tested negative in the second round of enhanced testing at South Central, conducted Aug. 12, 2020, as had nearly 450 other inmates and more than 80 employees. That facility had seven active and 57 recovered inmate cases as of Thursday, with 13 inmate tests pending. Among employees, the jail had one active case with six others listed as recovered and two tests pending.
DCR has since conducted a second round of enhanced testing at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex. That facility-wide testing began Aug. 23, 2020, finishing with employees Wednesday and completing the remaining housing units Friday. So far, 162 inmates and 115 staff have tested negative. As of Friday morning, Mount Olive had 31 active inmate and 13 active staff cases
UPDATE ON CHURCHES, LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES
Additionally Friday, Gov. Justice announced that church-related outbreaks remain active in three counties across West Virginia: Cabell, Monroe, and Wyoming counties. These outbreaks account for about 21 total cases combined.
The previous church-related outbreak reported in Wood County is no longer active at this time.
Meanwhile, the Governor added that there are now 33 outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the state. The largest of these outbreaks are at Grant Rehab and Care Center in Grant County, Cedar Ridge Center and the Marmet Nursing Home in Kanawha County, Trinity Healthcare in Logan County, Princeton Healthcare Center in Mercer County, Springfield Center in Monroe County, Pine Lodge Nursing Home in Raleigh County, and Rosewood Nursing Home in Taylor County.
GOV. JUSTICE ISSUES STATE OF PREPAREDNESS FOR TROPICAL DEPRESSION LAURA
Additionally Friday, Gov. Justice announced that he has issued a State of Preparedness in advance of potential rainfall possible this weekend from Tropical Depression Laura, which made landfall in Louisiana earlier this week as a Category 4 hurricane.
This State of Preparedness covers all 55 counties and allows for the mobilization of resources to assist with preparation for any potential flooding or other storm-related damage.
“I do not believe we need to be super-alarmed,” Gov. Justice said. “But, at the same time, we know what flooding can do.
“I would caution everyone that, if you get water running across the road, please don’t drive through the water. Bad, bad move,” Gov. Justice said. “It can only take six inches of water to move a vehicle.”
Earlier in the week, the Governor announced that he had directed the West Virginia National Guard to closely monitor Laura and to begin preparing for any potential impact it may have on West Virginia.
“We know, in West Virginia, what significant rainfall can do with our mountains,” Gov. Justice said on Wednesday. “And you should know, this year, we have had an abundance of rainfall this spring and summer and so our soil may not be able to take much more rain.”
NATIONAL PREPAREDNESS MONTH IN WEST VIRGINIA PROCLAIMED
Also on Friday, Gov. Justice issued a proclamation, officially declaring September 2020 as National Preparedness Month in West Virginia.
“Throughout the month of September, the West Virginia Emergency Management Division will be encouraging West Virginians to prepare now for disasters that may come in the future,” Gov. Justice said.
FEMA organizes this annual preparedness outreach event each September through their “Ready” campaign.
WEST VIRGINIA REMAINS AMONG NATIONAL LEADERS IN CENSUS RESPONSE RATE; ALL URGED TO PARTICIPATE
Once more today, Gov. Justice asked all West Virginians to participate in the 2020 United States Census.
West Virginia currently boasts the 2nd-best U.S. Census response rate in the country.
To date, 90.6 percent of West Virginians have been counted. For perspective, during the last Census in 2010, the state’s final response rate was just 74 percent.
West Virginians are able to complete the Census until Sept. 30, 2020.
Every West Virginian who does not respond to the Census represents a loss of $20,000 in federal funds over the next 10 years for the state and its local communities. The funds can go toward things like healthcare, education, infrastructure, school lunch programs, and more.
Be counted in minutes: 2020census.gov.
SMALL BUSINESS GRANTS: $10.6 MILLION HAS NOW BEEN AWARDED
Also today, Gov. Justice provided an update on small businesses that have applied for funding through the Governor’s West Virginia CARES Act Small Business Grant Program, reporting that over 2,900 applications have been submitted, with more than $10.6 million being awarded to date.
The initiative is providing $150 million of West Virginia’s CARES Act funding to qualifying businesses across the state. Any West Virginia-based small business, in existence on March 1, 2020, with 1-35 employees, is able to apply for up to $5,000 in grant funding.
Gov. Justice also recently announced that he is opening up his West Virginia CARES Act Small Business Grant Program to sole proprietorships and self-employed individuals in West Virginia.
Any sole proprietor or self-employed person, in operation on or before March 1, 2020, is now able to apply for up to $2,000 in grant funding.
Businesses planning to apply must first be registered as a vendor with the State to be eligible. Guidelines for the grants and instructions on how to apply are available at Grants.wv.gov.
The application will remain open until Sept. 30, 2020.
CITIES/COUNTIES GRANT FUNDING: $94.2 MILLION HAS NOW BEEN AWARDED
Also today, Gov. Justice provided an update on cities and counties throughout West Virginia applying for funds through the federal CARES Act, reporting that more than $94.2 million has now been awarded all across the state.
A new web portal is now available for city and county government officials to apply for this grant funding, at grants.wv.gov. Interested parties can also call the helpline: 1-833-94-GRANT.
Each of the recipients of CARES Act funding, along with grant amounts, are now available to view through the COVID-19 transparency web portal provided by West Virginia State Auditor’s Office.
FREE COVID-19 TESTING
Gov. Justice also updated the schedule of upcoming free community COVID-19 testing events taking place over the next several weeks at various dates and times in multiple counties across the state.
The effort is part of a plan to provide free optional testing to all residents in several counties that are experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 transmission. It targets residents who have struggled to be seen by a physician or do not have insurance to pay for testing. However, other residents, including those who are asymptomatic are welcome to be tested.
Counties with upcoming free testing events include:
WEST VIRGINIA STRONG SUMMER FOOD ASSISTANCE MAP
Also, Gov. Justice reminded West Virginians that an interactive free-feeding location map, designed to help connect citizens in need to food resources across the state, is available online.
More than 696 free-feeding locations have now been made available through a multi-agency effort between the West Virginia National Guard, the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services, the West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (WV VOAD), and the United Way.
If food distribution locations aren’t available in some communities, individuals are encouraged to call 211 for further assistance.
Click here to view all Executive Orders and other actions taken by Gov. Justice to combat the spread of COVID-19 in West Virginia.
For more information about COVID-19 prevention and more, call the State’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-887-4304 or visit Coronavirus.wv.gov.