COVID-19 UPDATE: Gov. Justice proposes bill requiring exemptions from vaccine mandates in the workplace


CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice and members of the West Virginia COVID-19 pandemic response leadership team held another news briefing today to update the public on the State’s latest pandemic response efforts.
During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice announced that he has amended his recent Special Session call to include a bill that would clarify that any government or private business that wishes to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine must also allow exemptions to that mandate for medical or religious reasons.

“I’ve stood rock solid that I’m against mandates,” Gov. Justice said. “I firmly believe that this country is founded upon our rights and freedoms. That’s really the ingredient that makes America great.”
“Now, I stand behind the rights of our private businesses, but at the same time, they need to comply with the law of the land,” Gov. Justice continued. “This is a common sense bill because federal law already says you have to allow for these exemptions. Our military has mandated vaccines. However, they are allowing these exemptions to be claimed. Our own Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, has written a legal opinion which confirms that we must offer these exemptions.”

The Governor went on to clarify that this bill would still allow businesses to mandate COVID-19 vaccines, so long as the appropriate exemptions are available.

“We’re joining many other states that are clarifying this law, but we are not joining other states in restricting businesses from choosing what is best for them,” Gov. Justice said. “This bill does not affect any of the other vaccines that are currently mandated in our public schools like the vaccines for mumps, measles, and rubella, all of which have been around for a long time. This is only for the COVID-19 vaccine.”
“Even though I wholeheartedly support the COVID vaccine, and I will continue to encourage people to take the COVID vaccine because I truly believe in my heart that it is very safe, it should not be mandated when it hasn’t even been approved for children ages 5 to 11 yet,” Gov. Justice added. “We’ve all heard the stories, recently, about West Virginians being fired from their jobs for not taking the COVID vaccine and that’s not right.”

The amendment to the Special Session call also includes a bill to provide a supplemental appropriation of $4 million to backfill the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants, which go toward providing direct services such as counseling, personal advocacy, court advocacy, client transportation, and support services to victims of crimes including domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, and elder abuse.
On Wednesday, Gov. Justice reported that there are now 9,703 active cases statewide; down by 858 cases since the Governor’s previous briefing on Monday and the first briefing day under 10,000 active cases since Aug. 20.

The active case count is down by 20,041 cases since peaking less than a month ago, dropping by more than two-thirds (67.4%) in that timeframe.

COVID-19 Dashboard |
Meanwhile the seven-day rolling average of cases has dropped by nearly half over the same timeframe.
The state also continues to see a steady downward trend in the number of severe COVID cases.

The number of hospitalizations, patients in ICUs, and patients on ventilators have all dropped between 10.3% and 19.3% since peaking in the final week of September.

The number of hospitalizations is now 823; down by 75 over the past week. Since peaking at 1,012, hospitalizations have dropped by 189 (18.7%).

The number of patients in ICUs is now 239; down by 21 over the past week. Since peaking at 296, the number of patients in ICUs has dropped by 57 (19.3%).

The number of patients on ventilators is now 175; down by three over the past week. Since peaking at 195, the number of patients on ventilators has dropped by 20 (10.3%).

The County Alert System map is also showing modest improvement, with 18 red counties, 23 orange counties, six gold counties, six yellow counties, and two green counties.
Gov. Justice recapped his journey across the state yesterday to surprise some of the biggest winners from the sixth and final week of prize giveaways as part of his “Do it for Babydog: Round 2” vaccination sweepstakes.

The Governor and Babydog surprised Ashley Dingess at Scott High School in Boone County, Connor Reece at Hurricane High School in Putnam County, and Karlee Baisden at Andrew Jackson Middle School in Kanawha County, announcing that that they had each won a full four-year scholarship to any public college or university in the state, including room and board, tuition, and books; a prize valued at over $100,000.
(Pictured left to right: Ashley Dingess, Karlee Baisden, Connor Reece)
Katelyn Lambert of Harrisville and Joseph Littlepage of Point Pleasant were also announced as scholarship winners this week.

Earlier yesterday morning, Gov. Justice and Babydog also surprised Steven Stover of Mabscott with the keys to a brand new top-of-the-line zero-turn lawn mower; a 61" Bad Boy Rebel 747cc with a Kohler engine.
Gov. Justice announced Friday last week that SSgt Michael Beall – a firefighter with the West Virginia Air National Guard’s 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg and the Martinsburg VA Medical Center – had won a new Corvette in this round of the sweepstakes. The special announcement was made at the Charleston Rod Run and Doo Wop – the largest car show in West Virginia.
A final tally of 150 prizes were awarded through Round 2 of the Babydog sweepstakes, including:
  • 30 full ride college scholarships, valued at over $100,000 each
  • 6 luxury high-end sports cars
  • 6 dream wedding packages, valued at $150,000
  • 6 brand-new custom fishing / pontoon boats
  • 12 prizes of free gas for 10 years
  • 12 premium ATVs / side-by-sides
  • 12 top-of-the-line zero turn lawn mowers
  • 18 WVU football/basketball season ticket packages
  • 18 Marshall University football/basketball season ticket packages
  • 30 season passes to West Virginia ski resorts
During his briefing Wednesday, Gov. Justice shared a video montage, recapping the emotional reactions of several of the major prize winners whose lives were changed through the sweepstakes.
Click here to watch video
“The bottom line of what we’ve done here is we’ve raised awareness of why it’s so important to get vaccinated,” Gov. Justice said. “We have crossed way past 200,000 additional vaccinations since we started these campaigns, and there’s no telling how many lives we’ve saved.

“Nobody can dispute the success of this program,” Gov. Justice continued. “Not only that, but we’ve put a lot of smiles on a lot of people’s faces.

“I continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated. And we’re going to keep at it. We’re going to keep trying like crazy to get more and more people across the finish line, because it’ll save lives.”
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission has received an award in the amount of nearly $2 million from FEMA to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing on campuses through the end of the year.

“Our colleges and universities have really stepped up to the plate to make sure that we can continue to test, and this money will reimburse them for a lot of work they’ve already done,” Gov. Justice said. “I want to thank our Higher Ed folks for the work that they’ve done in coordinating testing and for identifying and securing this funding.

“I’d also like to thank FEMA for this award,” Gov. Justice continued. “These dollars are just going to make us stronger and stronger, and will give us the opportunity to do even more stuff.”
Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice congratulated the West Virginia Vaccine Administration, Collaboration, and Support (WV VACS) Team for being recognized nationally for their work by the Association of Schools Advancing Health Professions.

The Governor originally announced the creation of the WV VACS Team in April. The group is made up of more than 1,000 health professional students from colleges and universities across the state who have volunteered to help further bolster the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout efforts in various communities across West Virginia.

“I would like to congratulate and thank everyone involved, especially all the students that came together to serve our communities when we needed them the most,” Gov. Justice said. “We are so proud of you.”
With the percentage of fully vaccinated residents hospitalized for COVID-19 slowly creeping higher in recent weeks, Gov. Justice took time during his briefing to encourage all West Virginians to determine if they qualify for a booster dose and then get one if they are eligible.

West Virginians who received specifically the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine  may qualify for the booster shot if it has been at least six months since their second dose.

The CDC recommends that:
  • People 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings SHOULD receive a booster shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after their second dose of Pfizer.
  • People aged 50–64 years with *underlying medical conditions SHOULD receive a booster shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after their second dose of Pfizer.
  • People aged 18–49 years with *underlying medical conditions MAY receive a booster shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after their second Pfizer dose, based on their individual benefits and risks.
  • People aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting MAY receive a booster shot of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after their second Pfizer dose, based on their individual benefits and risks.
* = Underlying medical conditions: State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh noted that the list of underlying medical conditions that would qualify an individual to receive the booster shot is extremely broad and includes anybody who is overweight, has high blood pressure, is a current or former smoker, has heart or lung conditions, is diabetic, is pregnant, has liver or kidney disease, has received a transplant, has cancer, has substance use disorder, has HIV, has had a stroke or other brain disorder, has dementia or other neurologic disease, has Down Syndrome, has sickle cell anemia, and more.

Click here to read more (via CDC)
If you are eligible for the booster shot, you can go to any location offering COVID-19 vaccines with your vaccination card to receive the booster. If your card has been lost, you can request a new one from the DHHR.
On Wednesday, Gov. Justice reported that, per the West Virginia Department of Education, there are currently 57 school outbreaks in 23 counties with 577 confirmed cases.

COVID-19 Outbreaks in State Public Schools (WVDE)

A total of 53 county school systems have either face covering requirements or a criteria for requiring face coverings. Only two counties – Pocahontas and Tucker counties – do not have a face covering requirement at this time.

WV Department of Education COVID-19 Updates
With flu season getting underway, Gov. Justice and State health officials took time to encourage all West Virginians to get their flu vaccine.

According to health officials, everyone 6 months and older should receive this vaccine.

In addition to providing protection from the flu, this vaccine helps reduce the burden on hospitals and healthcare systems.

Flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines may be given at the same time.

Click here to learn more
Gov. Jim Justice announced today that he has appointed Mark Scott as Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Administration.

Scott, who currently serves as the president of the Randolph County Commission, worked in the insurance business in north central West Virginia for 27 years before his retirement from the private sector.

His appointment will be effective on Nov. 1, 2021.

“Mark is a very, very qualified man and I’m really confident that he’s going to bring some real ideas and real juice to the position and he’ll do a wonderful job,” Gov. Justice said.

Click here to read more
Gov. Jim Justice, the West Virginia Department of Tourism, and the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History (WVDACH) invite all West Virginia students in grades K-12 to participate in the 2021 Almost Heaven Governor’s Art Exhibition.

Entries will be accepted beginning Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. The deadline for submissions is Dec. 6, 2021. Only one entry may be submitted per student.

Designed to showcase student creativity and the arts, this year’s exhibition is a call for one-of-a-kind postcard designs depicting the following theme: “What does America's newest national park – the New River Gorge National Park & Preserve – mean to you?”

Awards will be given out to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places in three categories: elementary school, middle school and high school. Winners will receive Blick Art Materials gift cards in the amounts of $100, $50, and $25.

An exhibition of all selected entries will be on display at the State Capitol in Charleston beginning Jan. 12, 2022. Selected postcard artwork will later be used by the Department of Tourism to personally invite travelers to Almost Heaven.

Click here to read more and to print submission form
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