COVID-19 UPDATE: Gov. Justice establishes $50 million fund to ensure safety of schools; awards grant to all West Virginia Veterans organizations

9/4/2020

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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.
$50 MILLION SAFETY FUND FOR SCHOOLS
During Friday’s briefing, Gov. Justice announced that he is placing $50 million of CARES Act money into a special fund for PPE, cleaning supplies and, if the need arises, additional testing at schools. This, along with existing resources, will provide schools with the assurance that their needs will be met for the duration of the school year.

“Everybody has signed off that we have adequate PPE to start our schools back. In addition, our National Guard has 2 million masks and all kinds of other PPE,” Gov. Justice said, adding that the West Virginia Department of Education has also already provided $91 million preparing schools to safely reopen this fall.

“Our Superintendent of Schools, Clayton Burch, has told us over and over that they have checked, double-checked, and triple-checked, with all of our superintendents weighing in, that our schools have all the safety equipment we need. We’re ready to go,” Gov. Justice continued. “But, if we have any level of outbreak or problem that is beyond our current means, we will have an additional $50 million to address that.

“This should more than give us the ability to put aside any concerns and allow us to move forward.”

The fund will also be used for other urgent COVID-19-related equipment and testing needs beyond schools.

An analysis of CARES Act spending rates by the West Virginia Department of Revenue determined that the State is able to move surplus funding, originally allocated to WorkForce West Virginia’s unemployment fund for 2020-2021, to establish the new fund without compromising benefits.

The Governor added that he received unanimous support from his Legislative Advisory Committee for this fund.

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Also while discussing schools Friday, Gov. Justice clarified that county school systems are not restricted from moving to a full-virtual education model if they choose to do so. However, the Governor offered a reminder that such a decision would remove parent choice from the statewide school re-entry plan, established by the WVDE, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and the Governor’s Office.

“This is all driven by parents having the choice,” Gov. Justice said. “Right now, the overwhelming majority of parents across the state – as much as 70 percent – want their kids back in school.

“If a county wants to go 100 percent remote, they can do just that. We don’t think that’s what they ought to do. But, if they do, that’s up to them. We support our counties’ right to make local decisions,” Gov. Justice continued. “But if they are 100 percent remote, and the WVSSAC agrees with this, the schools in those counties can’t play sports. It’s not a penalty, it’s just the way it has to be. If they are closing in an effort of safety, we absolutely can’t have kids out on the football field or kids playing volleyball and school is not open. There’s just no way that you could have both.

“If it’s too dangerous to go back to school it’s surely too dangerous to be playing sports.”

The Governor also offered a reminder that, for most counties, the first day of school is still scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

On Friday, the Governor provided an updated look at West Virginia’s latest County Alert System color-coded map.

The map is updated live on the DHHR’s COVID-19 Dashboard (Click "County Alert System" tab) throughout the week  to provide an indication of how each county is trending ahead of each Saturday at 9 p.m.; the time when each county is assigned its official color designation for the next week, which determines the level of scholastic, athletic, and extracurricular activities permitted in each county for that particular week.
As of Friday, a total of 30 counties were green, while 17 counties were yellow.

Six counties were orange: Kanawha, Logan, Mercer, Mingo, Putnam, and Wayne counties.

Two counties were red: Monongalia and Monroe counties.

The WVDE’s official map for next week will be unveiled HERE at 9 p.m. Saturday. This link also includes information on the protocols that go into effect for each color status.

The Governor also discussed a health panel, which will review the accuracy of the data for Saturday night. In particular, the panel will ensure that all COVID-19 positive nursing home residents and prison inmates are excluded in the calculation of both 7-day and 14-day county incident rates which are displayed on the County Alert System map posted to the COVID-19 dashboard. The reason for excluding these individuals is that they are not in the community and therefore not contributing to community spread.

The individuals on this panel will also review the trends in the data and the degree of statistical confidence in the data based upon accepted public health practice.
 
This panel is not making decisions about schools reopening, but is responsible for providing accurate data that will drive those decisions.

Members of the panel include Dr. Clay Marsh, Coronavirus Czar & Vice President and Executive Dean for Health Sciences at WVU; DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch; State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad; Dr. Jeff Coben, Associate Vice President for Health Affairs & Dean of the School of Public Health at WVU; and Amy Atkins, Director of the Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services under DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health.
GOV. JUSTICE PROVIDES $1.395 MILLION FOR VETERANS ORGANIZATIONS
Also on Friday, Gov. Justice announced that he will soon provide a combined total of $1.395 million in grants to all Veterans organizations across West Virginia.

“We’ve got 279 Veterans organizations across the state, and we’ve got enough dollars to be able to do this,” Gov. Justice said. “We’ve already sent our volunteer firefighters and our EMS providers dollars. Now, we’re going to send all of these Veterans organizations $5,000.

“These people haven’t been able to do their normal fundraising and everything,” Gov. Justice continued. “The bottom line of the whole thing is we’ve got to support our Veterans in every way we can.”
VACCINE PREPARATION TASK FORCE
Additionally Friday, Gov. Justice announced that he has directed the West Virginia National Guard and DHHR to immediately stand up a Vaccine Preparation Task Force so that West Virginia will be prepared when a vaccine for COVID-19 comes. 

The CDC has instructed the State to have a plan in place by October 1, 2020, in anticipation of a potential vaccine as early as November.

“I am very hopeful, I hope and pray in every way that the vaccine rolls out this fall, but I am very cautious,” Gov. Justice said. “But, whenever it comes, we’ll be ready.”
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 – has increased to 1.28, the worst such rate in the country. The Governor added that West Virginia's number of active cases has reached a new record high of 2,344.

Still, West Virginia’s COVID-19 numbers have been among the best in the nation. West Virginia has outperformed the national average, as well as the rates of all of its bordering states, in percentage of population tested, percentage of population positive, and percentage of positive test results. West Virginia has also outperformed the national average in case fatality rate.

Click here to view the latest COVID-19 data
OUTBREAK REPORT
Additionally on Friday, Gov. Justice announced that church-related outbreaks remain active in Cabell, Monroe, Wayne, and Wyoming counties at this time.

Meanwhile, the Governor added that there are now 35 outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the state, up from 34 on Wednesday.

The Governor reported that two outbreaks remain active among West Virginia’s Pre-K-12 school facilities. Two teachers from Point Pleasant Primary School in Mason County recently tested positive, while five staff members from Mingo Central High School in Mingo County recently tested positive as well.

Health officials in Monongalia County have identified 29 positive COVID-19 cases within 12 fraternities and sororities on WVU’s campus in Monongalia County.

Also, Gov. Justice reported that the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation is continuing to evaluate Mount Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County.

Mount Olive currently has 134 active cases of COVID-19 among inmates. Meanwhile, South Central Regional Jail in Kanawha County has four active cases and Western Regional Jail in Cabell County has one active case among their inmate populations.

Across the entire DCR system, a total of 33 employees have active cases at this time.

Click here to view the latest corrections facility update
GOVERNOR HIGHLIGHTS "MONUMENTAL" BROADBAND PROJECT, "MIRACLE" REVENUE NUMBERS
Also on Friday, Gov. Justice offered a reminder that in a virtual media briefing yesterday he signed an executive order that will allow West Virginia to leverage $766 million over the next 10 years to connect 121,000 West Virginia homes to world-class broadband, particularly those in currently underserved areas across the state. The Federal Communications Commission has created a program called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Through this program, the FCC will direct billions of dollars to finance the deployment of high-speed broadband networks across underserved regions of rural America, connecting millions homes and businesses to world-class broadband access.

Click here to read more on broadband project

The Governor also Justice announced Thursday that West Virginia has accumulated a $244.3 million cash surplus through the first two months of Fiscal Year 2021, despite the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the state’s economy. Additionally, Gov. Justice announced that August 2020 revenue collections came in at $35.8 million above estimates. Year-to-date revenue collections are $80.3 million above estimates and 31.3% above prior year receipts.

Click here to read more on revenue numbers
GOVERNOR SIGNS PAIR OF EXECUTIVE ORDERS
Additionally Friday, Gov. Justice signed a pair of executive orders.

Executive Order 67-20: Relating to the suspension of CSR § 143-1-12.3a as it applies to employees of Workforce West Virginia.

Executive Order 68-20: Establishing the requirement that private and public Pre-K-12 schools follow the DHHR County Alert System map as it relates to any limitations or prohibitions on occupancy of such educational institutions for in-person instruction and/or athletic and extracurricular activities.
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, 95.4 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: OVER $12 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 3,300 applications have been submitted, with more than $12 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 has also opened up the 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: $102.8 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 $102.8 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:
  • Cabell County
  • Doddridge County
  • Jackson County
  • Kanawha County
  • Logan County
  • Mason County
  • Mingo County
  • Monroe County
  • Morgan County
  • Nicholas County
  • Raleigh County
Click here to view dates and additional details
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.

Click here to view the map

More than 690 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.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
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.

Contact Information

Jordan Damron, jordan.l.damron@wv.gov

Contact

Office of the Governor
State Capitol, 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E
Charleston, WV 25305

Office Phone:
304.558.2000 or 1.888.438.2731

Governor's Mansion:
304.558.3588

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Banner Images Courtesy of the West Virginia Department of Commerce

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