CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice joined State health leaders and officials from his administration at the Capitol Complex in Charleston for a virtual press briefing to once again update the public on the many measures being taken in the interest of protecting the public from the spread of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
On Monday, Gov. Justice commended all West Virginians for their willingness to continue the fight against the spread of COVID-19 by practicing good social distancing through Easter weekend.
“I really appreciate all those that, on Easter Sunday, were able to abide by our social distancing as much as possible and our Stay At Home order,” Gov. Justice said. “I feel certain that, as a whole, we were able to worship and be respectful of Easter, one of the greatest holidays along with Christmas.”
The Governor also announced that numbers continue to show that West Virginia is doing relatively well in terms of containing the spread of COVID-19. However, the Governor also mourned several individuals who lost their battle with the virus over the weekend.
Visit Coronavirus.wv.gov to view the most up-to-date COVID-19 testing numbers
“Believe me, I hate like crazy to make that report to you,” Gov. Justice said. “Cathy and I pray every day that some way, somehow this incline will stop. We know that probably that’s not going to be the case because we are the highest risk state. And we’ve done amazingly well from the standpoint of all of you and what you’ve done as West Virginians. But, still, it’s just tough.
“We send our thoughts and prayers out to all,” Gov. Justice continued. “We’ll just keep fighting this battle as hard as we can possibly fight it.”
JACKSON COUNTY ADDED TO EXECUTIVE ORDER
An Executive Order was issued by Gov. Justice, adding Jackson County to the list of community clusters for the spread of the virus. The order gives the local health departments in those counties the authority to further restrict and tighten rules on social distancing and essential services.
“They had the highest increase in cases, over the past 24 hours, out of all of our 55 counties,” Gov. Justice said. “We’ve absolutely got to bring Jackson County into that fold.”
Twelve counties across West Virginia have now received this designation.
DHHR TO ISSUE ONE-TIME PAYMENT TO TANF RECIPIENTS
Gov. Justice also announced that he has directed the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to issue a one-time, $500 payment to current recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), also known as WV WORKS, as part of the state’s ongoing response to COVID-19.
“There’s a bunch of people out there that this can help,” Gov. Justice said. “This is a one-time payment, but we’re very, very hopeful that this can bridge some difficult times.”
WEST VIRGINIANS REMINDED TO BE COUNTED IN CENSUS
Also today, Gov. Justice reminded all West Virginians that responding to the 2020 United States Census is vital to the future of the state and is extremely important when federal funds are dispersed across the country.
“I can’t tell you just how important it is for each and every West Virginian to be counted,” Gov. Justice said. “There are so many programs that we receive federal funds for and what we get is directly tied to our officially recorded population via the Census.”
Residents can complete their official Census registration by either responding to the mailing you should have received in the past month, by going online at 2020census.gov or by calling 844-330-2020 (English), 844-468-2020 (Spanish) and 844-467-2020 (TDD Telephone Display Device).
WEST VIRGINIA NATIONAL GUARD MOBILIZING MASK SANITIZING TRAILER; DEVELOPING PPE SOLUTIONS
Gov. Justice announced today that the West Virginia National Guard has put together a mobile sanitizing trailer that can be deployed across the state to sanitize N-95 masks using FDA approved hydrogen peroxide vapors. This method can sanitize N-95 masks up to 20 times and we are able to process 1,500 masks every three hours.
The Governor also announced that a network of West Virginians have come together to begin developing more of these N-95 masks. The West Virginia National Guard, in collaboration with researchers from West Virginia University, and our colleges and community and technical colleges, have developed a solution to address the critical personal protective equipment shortage.
After working on a prototype, the National Guard stood up a Task Force to coordinate the production of PPE throughout the state. Total daily production could reach as high as 2,500 masks, with the ultimate goal of being able to produce enough masks for every West Virginian.
GOV. JUSTICE REQUESTS PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT IN CONFERENCE CALL WITH VICE PRESIDENT
Today, Gov. Justice reported that he took part in a conference call with Vice President Mike Pence, where he requested additional gowns and gloves for healthcare workers on the front lines of fighting COVID-19 in West Virginia.
“I asked them to step up and do that. The response was very positive from the Vice President and his team,” Gov. Justice said. “I also asked that they give us the extension to be able to extend the funding of our National Guard to 500 guardsmen for 60 days. I think that will come very quickly.”
NEW GUIDELINES FOR FOOD TRUCKS AT REST AREAS
Gov. Justice also announced that, in response to the United States Department of Transportation suspending its prohibition on food trucks at federally funded rest areas, the West Virginia Division of Highways has set guidelines allowing for food trucks at rest areas as a temporary measure to ease the burden on truck drivers during the ongoing pandemic.
WORK PROCESSING UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS CONTINUES
The Governor also reported today that the State is continuing to work toward processing all of the 120,000 unemployment claims that have been filed through Workforce West Virginia since the beginning of March.
“We’re working those claims as diligently as we can,” Gov. Justice said. “We amped up our staff three times, we’ve amped it up another double of that, we’ve been processing claims like crazy to make sure everything gets out.
“Over 62,000 West Virginians have already received the extra $600 from the CARES Act and this represents more than $37 million in extra unemployment benefits for those West Virginians.
“I’ve got to announce to all of you that those of you that are self-employed or independent contractors, you are not able to file as of yet, but you will be able to do so soon.
“As soon as we get the rules and all the stuff put together where you can file, we will announce when that filing will be able to begin. But the one thing you’ve got to understand is all these benefits will be retroactive when available. So we’ll go back and capture all the dollars that are owed to you as soon as everything is available.”
EXECUTIVE ORDER SIGNED FOR SPEECH LANGUAGE PATHOLOGISTS AND AUDIOLOGISTS
Gov. Justice also signed an Executive Order today at the request of the West Virginia Board for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology that gives the board discretion to waive the five-day limitation on out-of-state licensees practicing speech-language pathology and audiology in West Virginia.
WEST VIRGINIA NATIONAL GUARD UPDATE
Since beginning operations in support of the state’s COVID-19 response 31 days ago, the WVNG has completed more than 350 missions through our four lines of effort of operationalizing of the event, stabilizing the population, providing logistical movement of critical supplies and conducting data analysis to combat the virus. Currently, almost 600 members of the WVNG are on duty serving the citizens of the State of West Virginia.
Since our last update, members of Task Force Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Response Enterprise (TF-CRE) assisted in testing of students and staff at West Virginia University this morning, utilizing the PAPRs system, which can be decontaminated and eliminate burn through of single-use PPE items. To date, this task force has assisted in testing more than 500 individuals for COVID-19.
TF-CRE will provide training to 29 retail establishments today on proper cargo, box handling and PPE wear. So far, TF-CRE has trained nearly 400 stores and 1,341 personnel while also assisting with COVID-19 drive through testing lanes at six locations across the Mountain State. Drive through testing support will expand to Hampshire County starting tomorrow.
Our mission of supporting the most vulnerable populations in the state continues to make an impact and in the last 24 hours we delivered more than 4,000 meals through our refrigerated trucks to Pleasants, Ritchie, Barbour, Gilmer and Wetzel Counties. In addition, we packed 579 family boxes at the Mountaineer Food Bank. We will be delivering more meals today through our refrigerated trucks to Wirt, Webster, Tyler and Boone Counties.
“The Guard is continuing to work with our partners at the Department of Education and Commissioner Chelsea Ruby on ensuring that students’ nutritional needs are met during spring break throughout the state, ” Hoyer said.
Task Force Sustainment, the team dedicated to moving critical PPE supplies and running supply chain logistics for COVID-19 response, is working with our agency partners at the Department of Health and Human Resources and Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to streamline plans for PPE distribution throughout the state. We continue to work with the West Virginia Healthcare Association to address any shortfalls in long-term care facilities, as well.
The number of personnel supporting the Workforce West Virginia mission remains the same and 10 of our service members are undergoing training to begin processing unemployment claims this week. Additionally, 17 members of the WVNG worked on Easter to answers calls and help address the backlog for those needing unemployment assistance.
Our data analysts working with DHHR’s regional epidemiology teams were able to support six contact tracing engagements to track 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.