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COVID-19 UPDATE: Gov. Justice Says Recent Surge of Cases “Will Only Get Worse if We Don’t Really Aggressively Run and Get Vaccinated Today”

CHARLESTON, WV – During Friday’s briefing, Gov. Justice reported that the total number of active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia has now reached 3,372; nearly four times the number of active cases seen throughout the state less than a month ago.

“We’re starting to see a more rapid increase,” Gov. Justice said. “There needs to be more and more concern about getting yourself vaccinated because we’re running out of time.”

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also climbing.

The number of active hospitalizations in West Virginia is now 210, up from 185 as of the Governor’s previous briefing on Wednesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 32.4% are in the ICU.

Gov. Justice also reported that West Virginia now has five counties in the Red category of the County Alert System map: Cabell, Marshall, Upshur, Wetzel, and Wyoming counties.

The map also now features 12 Orange counties, six Gold counties, and 13 Yellow counties; meaning that 36 of the state’s 55 counties are now above the Green category.

Gov. Justice went on to report that there are now 129 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant that have been identified in 32 counties across the state.

“With all the risks that are out there, you need to move today,” Gov. Justice said. “We all know how to stop it. All we’ve got to do is get vaccinated.’

“But it will only get worse if we don’t really aggressively run and get vaccinated today,” Gov. Justice continued.

Also on Friday, Gov. Justice announced that more information about signing up for the Booster Battlefield Assessment is coming soon.

West Virginia’s Booster Battlefield Assessment is the first statewide program in the country to test and measure antibody levels among vaccinated individuals.

Earlier this week, Joint Interagency Task Force Director Jim Hoyer said that any West Virginians who are interested in participating in the Booster Battlefield Assessment should call the West Virginia COVID-19 Vaccine Info Line at 1-833-734-0965. The info line is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We’re going to get you more information about how to sign up soon,” Gov. Justice said. “In the meantime, we appreciate you calling in.

“We’re going to move to get antibodies checked in our nursing homes first, and then we’re going to move to others,” Gov. Justice continued. “We’re going to get a lot of really valuable information.”

Also on Friday, Gov. Justice reported that there are now 10 active outbreaks associated with churches throughout West Virginia. The churches are located in Cabell, Fayette, Jackson, Jefferson, Marion, McDowell, Nicholas, Putnam, and Raleigh counties.

Additionally, there are now 14 active outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the state.

Meanwhile, there are 29 active inmate cases and four active staff cases across the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation system.

Gov. Justice took time out of his remarks about COVID-19 to announce that yesterday he issued two proclamations, ordering that all United States and West Virginia flags on all State-owned facilities throughout West Virginia be displayed at half-staff on Aug. 5-6 as a mark of respect for two fallen West Virginia servicemen who have been returned home to be laid to rest.

The flag order on Thursday, Aug. 5, honored the day of memorial services for Navy Patternmaker 1st Class Stanislaw F. Drwall of Thomas, WV.

Drwall was on the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft, sustaining multiple torpedo hits and quickly capsizing, resulting in the deaths of 429 crew members, including Drwall. He was 25 years old.
Drwall’s remains were exhumed from a Honolulu cemetery in 2015 and identified using DNA and other analysis on March 25, 2021.

The flag order on Friday, Aug. 6, honored the day of memorial services for Army Cpl. Pete W. Conley of Chapmanville, WV.

Conley was reported missing in action on Dec. 12, 1950, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. He was 19 years old.
On July 27, 2018, following the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018, North Korea turned over 55 boxes, purported to contain the remains of American service members killed during the Korean War. Conley’s remains were identified on June 5, 2020.

“As you see these flags at half-staff, I ask you to please remember these two fallen heroes. But not only that, please remember all those that serve to give us everything that we have,” Gov. Justice said. “We love them and we thank them.”

Also on Friday, Gov. Justice took time to announce that he has appointed Bill Raney to the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

“Bill has served this state extremely well. He led the charge with the West Virginia Coal Association for years and years,” Gov. Justice said. “He’ll be sworn-in in the coming weeks and I know Bill will do a tremendous job.

“He loves our state beyond good sense, just like I do, and I think the world of him,” Gov. Justice continued. “He is so qualified and so well-versed it’s unbelievable.”

The Governor also announced that, on Wednesday, the PSC granted Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power approval to make the upgrades necessary to comply with federal environmental regulations at the Amos, Mountaineer, and Mitchell coal-fired power plants.

The Commission’s approval provides an opportunity for all three plants to remain operational through 2040.

“This is really great news,” Gov. Justice said. “I commend the PSC on this decision, I think it’s the right decision. As I’ve said so many times, we cannot afford to risk our baseload generation capacities and we must do everything we can to protect these plants and protect these great jobs all across our state.”

During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice was joined by State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch and WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan to discuss back-to-school plans for West Virginia as they relate to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve heard the Governor, our State Board President Miller Hall, and others talk about the toll that [the pandemic] took on our children, our families, our educators, service personnel, and all those related to the school system,” Superintendent Burch said. “We’re glad to be back. We know we want consistent time for our children to be in school. We want to make sure that families know that we do still have virtual school options available, but that consistent daily connection to the teachers is the most important thing.”

The West Virginia Board of Education and the West Virginia Department of Education released their back-to-school guidance for the 2021-22 school year. The information is designed to provide county school systems with strategies to facilitate the safe return to school and the continued operation of schools without interruption.

The information offers key mitigations for schools and extracurricular activities as well as other protocols to assist counties as they begin the new school year. The document and accompanying website will serve as a resource for educators, families, communities, and students.

“I don’t want to overlook the most important mitigation strategy that we have, and that is the vaccinations for students 12 and older, and for teachers and staff,” Superintendent Burch said, noting that additional school vaccination clinics will be held into the fall.

“We are ready to support our K-12 and our colleges and universities with vaccination clinics as schools restart,” Gov. Justice said. “And as soon as the FDA authorizes the vaccines to be given to individuals younger than 12, we will give you updates.”

The Governor added that he has authorized the Joint Interagency Task Force to stand up tabletop exercises to prepare for any and all potential scenarios that could arise as students return to school.

Gov. Justice and Superintendent Burch went on to discuss the WVDE’s #IGotVaxxedWV campaign, which was launched this summer to encourage students 12 and older to get their COVID-19 vaccine.

The WVDE also recently launched their #IGotVaxxedWV Competition to reward schools that have supported vaccinations among students and staff. The competition will run through the first week of October 2021 and – with Gov. Justice’s support – will award $50,000 to four elementary schools, four middle schools, and four high schools with the highest percentage of eligible staff and students vaccinated. The competition will include both public and private schools.

“If you don’t want an interruption in your school year, in your sports programs, and everything else, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” Gov. Justice said. “It’s incredibly safe and it’s the absolute best answer that we have.”

WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan also made remarks Wednesday, announcing that the official practice schedule is already underway for all fall sports except volleyball, which is scheduled to begin next week.

Dolan added that the guidelines that were used last year for individual sports will serve as recommendations for this year and encouraged all eligible players and coaches to get vaccinated.

“We know that vaccination is the safest way and the best way to be able to participate,” Dolan said. “The guidance has been that, if you are vaccinated, you don’t have to quarantine. And more often than not last year it was the quarantine that was interrupting the schedules.

“At this point, we don’t intend on changing any of our state tournament schedules,” Dolan continued. “So we hope that everybody goes out and does what they need to do to make sure we’re able to do that and the kids are able to do that, because nobody wants to end up missing some of their season again.”