CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice joined West Virginia health leaders and other officials Tuesday for his latest daily press briefing regarding the State’s COVID-19 response.
WEEK 5 OF “THE COMEBACK” NOW UNDERWAY
During Tuesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice offered a reminder that the Week 5 phase of West Virginia Strong – The Comeback officially began Tuesday, meaning that several additional types of businesses are now permitted to reopen, provided that all safety guidelines are being properly followed.
Businesses permitted to resume operations today, Tuesday, May 26, include:
• State Park cabins and lodges (In-state residents only)
• Bars (indoor bars at 50% capacity and outdoor bars)
• Museums and visitor centers
Businesses included in each phase of this reopening plan are not required to resume operations on any specific date. This plan provides the option for reopening, not a requirement.
MORE REOPENINGS SCHEDULED FOR LATER THIS WEEK
The Governor also provided a reminder than an additional round of reopenings are scheduled to take place later this week.
Businesses permitted to resume operations on Friday, May 30, include:
•Spas and massage businesses
•Limited video lottery retailers
•Bowling alleys, pool halls, roller rinks, and other places with indoor amusement
Week 6 of West Virginia Strong – The Comeback will begin next Monday, with reopenings for movie theaters and casinos scheduled to commence next Friday, June 5.
The Governor’s Safer at Home order remains in effect at this time.
TESTING OF ALL INMATES, STAFF COMPLETE AT HUTTONSVILLE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
After ordering the full testing of all inmates and staff at Huttonsville Correctional Center and Jail last Friday, Gov. Justice reported Monday that the mass testing effort has been completed.
Last week, Gov. Justice announced that an inmate and a staff member at the Huttonsville facility had tested positive for COVID-19; the first positive tests found within West Virginia’s corrections system.
Late last Friday, results of an initial round of testing identified 25 additional inmates and four additional staff members were also positive.
“At first, we had just tested the block where we had the positive inmate. But I told our people on Friday, ‘Nope, that’s not good enough. Test the whole facility,’” Gov. Justice said. “We have now tested everyone in the facility.”
“Thanks to Gov. Justice’s quick action and quick response on Friday, we were able, on Monday, to test 1,029 inmates, which was the remainder of the inmate population at Huttonsville,” said Betsy Jividen, Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The process of analyzing all of the tests is ongoing at several labs across the state.
“We are hoping that we’ll have the remaining tests back in the next several days and we will plan our policy and our response accordingly,” Commissioner Jividen said.
“We expect, as these thousand-plus tests come back, that these numbers are going to rise,” Gov. Justice said. “We’re on it. Our people are staying right on top of it.
“We ran to the fire. I had to make the decision to go ahead and test everyone. It was the right thing to do because we’ve heard, all over the news, all of the problems other states across the nation have been having in their prisons,” Gov. Justice continued. “I think we’re ahead of the curve and we’re going to try to stay on top of it.”
“We are doing our best to be proactive and to protect the health of our inmate population and, of course, our staff, who are on the front lines every day, facing these challenges,” Commissioner Jividen said. “We have some contact tracing that has already begun and is continuing today and we hope that will help us in future preventative and reduction measures as well.”
NEXT ROUND OF TESTING FOR MINORITY, VULNERABLE POPULATIONS ANNOUNCED
Also Tuesday, Gov. Justice announced that efforts to test susceptible populations across West Virginia are set to continue.
The plan provides 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.
The DHHR and local jurisdictions, with support from the WVNG, will be conducting the next round of these testing efforts throughout the week.
Testing in Fayette County began Tuesday and will continue through Wednesday at various times and locations. Additional testing will be held on Friday and Saturday in Berkeley, Jefferson, Kanawha, Mineral, and Morgan counties.
Additionally yesterday, State Health Officer and Bureau for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Cathy Slemp announced the results from previous community testing efforts in Berkeley, Jefferson, Raleigh, and Mercer counties.
Dr. Slemp reported that 2,385 individuals participated in the testing initiative, with a total of 31 tests coming back positive. The amount and the rate of positive tests, by county, were as follows:
•Berkeley County: 15 positives (1.7 percent)
•Jefferson County: 15 positives (2.0 percent)
•Mercer County: 0 positives (0.0 percent)
•Raleigh County: 1 positive (0.3 percent)
“I want to say thank you to the local health departments and the community partners, who worked really hard, and the National Guard, who worked to do these testing sites,” Dr. Slemp said. “We continue to refine that process as we move to other areas of the state and come back to visit these as well.”
GOV. JUSTICE OFFERS REMINDER ABOUT “WVSTRONG” 30 PERCENT DISCOUNT AT STATE PARKS
After announcing last week that West Virginia State Parks will be offering a 30 percent discount on lodging for all West Virginia residents for stays between June 1 and August 31 – called the WVSTRONG Discount – Gov. Justice reported Tuesday that state parks officials have seen a 58 percent increase in reservations this month compared to May 2019.
“You know, the pricing was already great, but now the pricing is unbelievable,” Gov. Justice said today. “People are taking advantage of this deal and booking stays at our parks and that’s really, really great. There’s lots of good stuff going on. What place could be better right now than going to our state parks?”
To claim the 30 percent discount on a new reservation, simply book online at wvstateparks.com and enter promo code WVSTRONG at checkout.
All West Virginians with existing reservations during this time will be proactively issued the discount as a credit on their reservation. Credits will be automatically applied, so guests with existing reservations do not need to call.
CITY AND COUNTY GRANT APPLICATION REMINDER
The Governor once again offered a reminder that the State recently sent out the application for cities and counties throughout West Virginia to apply for funding through the federal CARES Act.
Gov. Justice also reiterated that 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.
“We want to encourage you to continue to apply,” Gov. Justice said. “We’ll get those dollars out to you as expediently as we possibly can.
“You can and should benefit from this funding,” Gov. Justice continued. “We want to take advantage of this as much as we possibly can. It puts more money into the economy and it will make our comeback in West Virginia and our comeback as a nation even faster.”
To-date, applications have been received from the following counties and municipalities:
•Kanawha County Commission
•Roane County Commission
•City of Hurricane
•City of Summersville
•Town of Bath
No CARES Act funding has been distributed to any county or city at this time.
WEST VIRGINIANS URGED TO PARTICIPATE IN CENSUS
Once more today, Gov. Justice asks all West Virginians to participate in 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 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.
Once again today, Gov. Justice provided an overview of statewide data on COVID-19, highlighting that West Virginia’s cumulative percentage of positive test results has increased, slightly, to 2.05 percent.
“That number is still fantastic, but it has crawled back up just a little bit, and of course it’s being spurred on by what’s going on at the prison in Huttonsville” Gov. Justice said. “We’re hoping it’ll turn the other way and start drifting back down again after we finish getting the results of our testing at the prison.”
West Virginia continues to excel in several metrics compared to its surrounding states and the national average. View the latest COVID-19 data at Coronavirus.wv.gov.