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.
BACKLOG OF UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS CLEARED
During his remarks today, Gov. Justice announced that staff from Workforce West Virginia, with assistance from members of the West Virginia National Guard, have successfully cleared the massive backlog of unemployment claims that had been submitted over the past several weeks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 150,000 unemployment claims have been filed since March 1 this year. For perspective, in a typical year, WorkForce West Virginia receives an average of approximately 3,400 claims in the month of March.
“I can’t say enough for how we’ve pounded a massive round peg into a square hole in West Virginia and been able to punch out all these claims,” Gov. Justice said. “I hate like crazy that they didn’t all come out on day one. But all the people that were sitting at home worried, I hope there’s real-live relief coming your way and that all your dollars are going to be backfilled and taken care of.
“Now, there are some claims that need some manual work because the claimant has listed an incorrect business address or other type of personal information that we need to get straight. But WorkForce is dealing with these individuals and calling them and helping them on a personal basis.”
Once again, Gov. Justice also discussed Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), an option for additional assistance benefitting workers who would otherwise not be eligible for unemployment compensation. This includes self-employed workers, independent contractors, workers with insufficient work histories, gig workers, ride sharing drivers, and more.
The Governor reminded qualified workers that applications for PUA will open on Friday, April 24, 2020, at 10 p.m. Applications will be available online at WorkForceWV.org.
PROGRESS CONTINUES TESTING ALL NURSING HOME RESIDENTS AND STAFF
Gov. Justice also announced that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and West Virginia National Guard continue to work around the clock to test all nursing home residents and staff members statewide for COVID-19.
Visit Coronavirus.wv.gov to view the most up-to-date COVID-19 testing numbers
This week, West Virginia became the first state in the nation to begin a full-scale nursing home testing program. Today, Gov. Justice announced that he expects all testing to be complete by the middle of next week.
“They’ve done amazing work in testing the nursing homes and they are proceeding ahead very, very quickly,” Gov. Justice said. “It’s a monumental task if you think about it. We had tested 22,000 people in 40 days and now we’re going out and testing 28,000 people in a very, very concise period.
“And we’re getting better results than what I’d feared,” Gov. Justice said. “And this program, with West Virginia being first in the nation to do it, you see, if you watch the national news, the CDC and everybody’s coming out and saying we should be doing this on a national basis.”
DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESSES
Gov. Justice also recognized the work of the West Virginia Department of Commerce, specifically the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, helping to support small businesses across the state during the ongoing Stay At Home order.
“We have assisted with 2,000 businesses in the state of West Virginia, as far as helping them and guiding them through the wickets,” Gov. Justice said. “There’s all kinds of stuff that we have up on our website to help small businesses and, I think, very soon, we’re going to have another tranche of federal money that’s opening up to cover the small businesses that were missed on the first go-around.”
MASK-MAKING EFFORTS CONTINUE
Additionally, the Governor recognized the West Virginia National Guard and members of the public for their efforts to produce masks to protect people from COVID-19.
“I’ve highlighted the great work the National Guard has done on this,” Gov. Justice said. “But there’s been lots of individuals, lots of you helping out just as good West Virginians, making masks, donating food, donating your time.
“It’s the true mountaineer spirit. I just love you. Keep doing the great work you’re doing.”
ROADS TO PROSPERITY UPDATE
During his remarks, the Governor also provided an update on the Roads to Prosperity program and the statewide secondary road maintenance initiative. Work by the Department of Transportation has continued through the pandemic, with appropriate safety precautions in place.
The Governor announced today that bids have been awarded for more than three dozen road construction and paving projects across the state, worth more than $216 million combined. He also announced that this year’s roadwork plan, which will outline the State’s plans for the paving season, will be released very soon.
“We’re going to absolutely jump on every pothole, the pulling of every ditch, and we’re going to just stay after it until we get this thing across the finish line,” Gov. Justice said. “We all know that our roads got in this condition by decades of neglect. But my administration has directed more money to roads than ever before in our history. We’ve gotten right after it and we’ve done it without raising taxes.”
WEST VIRGINIANS REMINDED TO BE COUNTED IN CENSUS
Gov. Justice once again reminded all West Virginians to take the opportunity to complete the 2020 United States Census.
Every West Virginian who does not respond to the Census represents a loss of $20,000 in federal funds over the next ten years for the state and its local communities. The funds can go toward things like healthcare, education, infrastructure, school lunch programs, and more.
Respond to the Census online at 2020census.gov.
DHHR ORDERS ADDITIONAL DATA REPORTING AND PUBLISHING GUIDELINES
Also on Thursday, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health filed two orders to implement additional measures regarding the reporting and publishing of COVID-19 data.
The rule changes will allow for collection of additional data to assist in the implementation of public health programs and help control the spread of COVID-19. One order requires the reporting of any COVID-19 positive individual who died with the disease and another order gives DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health the ability to publicly identify long-term care facilities with COVID-19 positive cases among residents and/or employees.
ATTORNEY GENERAL, SECRETARY OF STATE ALERT VOTERS TO SIGNS OF ABSENTEE VOTER FRAUD
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, in conjunction with Secretary of State Mac Warner, issued an alert to West Virginia voters Thursday concerning the increased potential of election fraud due to broad access to absentee ballots for the June 9 primary election.
The leaders’ concerns largely relate to the ability of fraudsters to steal or manipulate absentee ballots now that more people will use a mail-in, absentee ballot due to social distancing concerns driven by the coronavirus pandemic.
WEST VIRGINIA NATIONAL GUARD UPDATE
Today, the West Virginia National Guard conducted COVID-19 testing at four state hospitals for approximately 500 patients and staff. One additional state hospital will undergo testing tomorrow.
This marks seven facilities to undergo testing by the WVNG this week and to date, this team has tested 1,271 people, not including today’s testing, as a part of their response mission.
In addition to conducting COVID-19 testing for nursing homes, the WVNG’s Task Force CRE continues their missions of providing personal protective equipment (PPE) training to long-term care facilities, visiting six locations today. Members are also providing assistance for COVID-19 drive through testing lanes, sanitization of facilities, and N95 mask fit testing. To date, this team has trained 646 stores, 2,924 personnel, and 56 medical or long-term care facilities.
Since beginning operations in support of the state’s COVID-19 response 41 days ago, the WVNG has completed 621 missions.