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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – According to Governor Jim Justice, the most serious COVID surge is in North Central West Virginia. So severe, that the former Fairmont Regional Medical will be used an an overflow.
“Harrison, Marion and Marion Counties have the three highest rates of infection,” Justice said,” This requires us to act now, and be prepared in regard to our hospitalization rates”
Active cases in the three counties account for nearly 17 percent of all active cases in the state. Over the last seven days 873 new COVID-19 cases have been reported by local health departments.
“The recent COVID surge is exceeding in-patient capacity at WVU Hospital and the United Hospital Center in Clarksburg,” Justice said,” Many individuals are delaying care because there are no beds available.
The governor announced 65 healthcare workers will begin operations at the former site of the Fairmont Regional Medical Center. A partnership between the state and WVU was announced in March of 2020 that would keep a portion of the original building operational after an earlier announcement from then operator Aletco they planned to close the facility.
“This enable Fairmont Hospital to care for up to 42 patients and provide the necessary services to meet the needs of COVID patients and others so their care won’t be delayed,” Justice said.
WVU Medicine released the following statement:
“Yes, we can confirm what the Governor said relative to the expansion at Fairmont, and we appreciate his support of our need to do so. It’s also very accurate to say that ICU bed capacity, as well as general hospital capacity, remains a significant and on-going challenge at Ruby due to COVID-19. We’ve had to defer many non-emergent surgeries to make beds available for COVID-19 patients.”
“We appreciate WVU Hospital for stepping up and helping us with this important task,” Justice said,” We’re committed to seeing that our healthcare needs are met in this region and the rest of our state.”
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Former Morgantown city council candidate Timothy Aaron Metz has admitted to falsifying signatures during the 2019 municipal election.
The Secretary of State’s Office launched the investigation after being notified by Morgantown officials. The investigation found 21 of the 75 required signatures to get on the ballot were fraudulent, including one signature of deceased person.
When Metz withdrew from the election process in March of 2019 he said he had “cut corners.” Metz was indicted by a Mon County Grand Jury in September.
Metz has formally entered a guilty plea to one felony count of falsely filing a certification of nomination Monongalia County Circuit Court.
Monongalia County Prosecuting Attorney Perri DeChristopher and the court agreed to a pre-trial diversion and placed Metz under supervised probation for a period of 24 months.
“Election fraud at any level of government will never be tolerated in West Virginia,” said Secretary of State Mac Warner. “Our office will continue to work closely with local election officials and county prosecutors to make sure election improprieties are properly investigated and those people found guilty are held accountable.”
MONONGALIA COUNTY, W.Va. — A police officer in Westover previously accused of using excessive force is named in a new civil rights lawsuit from a citizen which also alleges failures within the Monongalia County city, including “knowingly hiring dangerous officers.”
The plaintiff, William Cox, claims he was falsely arrested and beaten after recording video of two Westover police officers on his cell phone in Aug. 2019 while waiting for a Mountain Line bus on his way to work.
Named in the lawsuit were Westover Officer Aaron Dalton, Westover Officer Justice Carver and the City of Westover.
The alleged attack happened at 11 a.m. on Aug. 25, 2019 when the two officers were on patrol and stopped to question Cox about why he was recording them.
The situation escalated.
What followed from the officers, according to the lawsuit filing, was “a merciless onslaught of punches, kicks, and pepper spray when he (Cox) was defenseless.”
Cox was then arrested for on a count of obstruction and two counts of assault and battery on a police officer.
Later, while under arrest, he had to be treated for injuries at WVU Medicine’s Ruby Memorial Hospital before he was taken to the North Central Regional Jail where he stayed for nearly 40 days, according to the lawsuit.
Cox was released in Oct. 2019 on personal recognizance bond.
Criminal charges against him were dismissed in Oct. 2020.
Attorneys for Cox said surveillance video from a nearby business captured the attack which was also recorded on Cox’s cell phone that was never returned to him.
With the lawsuit Cox was seeking compensatory, special and punitive damages along with the appointment of a receiver or another authority to “ensure that the City of Westover properly trains and supervises its police officers.”
“The failure of The City of Westover to reprimand, punish, retrain, or terminate Defendant Officers for their role in the attack on Mr. Cox and subsequent filing of false police reports inconsistent with surveillance footage represents a systemic failure in the patterns, practice,
and governance of the police department by The City of Westover,” the lawsuit alleged.
The lawsuit references earlier allegations against Officer Dalton and, another officer, Officer Zachary Fesko, for an incident on New Year’s Day 2019 when a man, Andre Howton, called police to have a woman removed from his home.
That man, Howton, was pulled from the home and beaten in an incident that was recorded on body camera video.
Howton’s injuries included multiple facial fractures, three broken teeth and other permanent injuries.
Former Westover Police Chief Richard Panico, who was named with Officers Dalton and Fesko in a lawsuit from Howton, resigned last year and was replaced with an appointee, Chief Joseph Adams, a retired State Police trooper.
The appointment of Chief Adams came after eleven Westover police officers called for the removal of one of their own officers based on a list of alleged violations.
An outside investigation was launched.
Dalton’s status with the Westover Police Department as of Thursday was not clear.
MetroNews left a message with Adams seeking comment about the Cox lawsuit.
MONONGALIA COUNTY, W.Va. – Department of Highways District 4 engineer Mike Cronin has confirmed four COVID-19 cases at the Monongalia County Garage reduced the number of employees available to treat roads during recent weather events.
New measures are now in place to prevent the problem in the future.
First, during winter weather events and call-out conditions quarantined employees with no symptoms may operate their vehicles provided they are the only person in the cab. Also, heavy machinery operators are being called in the event others are unable to work. No employees are being asked to work while sick.
During the most recent winter weather event, three inches of snow fell in two-and-a-half hours. Approximately one-and-a-half hours after the event priority routes were wet.
Cronin had high praise workers who sacrificed to get roads cleared and follow protocols to ensure safety for the traveling public and health of DOH workers and families.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Citing medical reasons, West Virginia University Chief of Police W.P. Chedester is stepping down.
Deputy Chief Phil Scott will serve as the interim chief and Chedester will serve as a lieutenant within the department.
Chedester’s progression in the department included becoming a certified law enforcement instructor, and serving as shift sergeant, lieutenant and captain over Operations and Special Services. He also served as commander of the department’s Special Response Team.
“After careful consideration in consultation with my family, health care providers and WVU colleagues, I have made the difficult decision to step down from my position as University Police chief,” Chedester said. “It truly has been a privilege to lead the University Police team these past two years, and I look forward to continuing to protect and serve our campus community in my new role while focusing on my health at the same time.”
Interim Chief Phil Scott retired from the Morgantown Police Department in 2010 after 25 years of service, serving six years as Chief of Police. Scott was hired by University police in 2011 as the manager of Investigative Services and progressed through the ranks.
“W.P. is a close friend and a valued member of the WVU family,” Scott said. “I am honored and humbled to follow him and serve as University Police’s interim chief. However, I also am thankful W.P. will remain part of our team, and I look forward to continuing to work with him in serving West Virginia University’s students, faculty and staff.”
WVU will launch a national search for a new University Police chief.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department has identified the woman struck and killed on the Grafton Road Sunday night as Jennifer Allison, 37, of Morgantown.
Deputies were called to the scene near White Tail Crossing around 6:15 p.m. Sunday to begin the investigation. Allison was transported to Ruby Memorial Hospital where she died later of her injuries.
The incident remains under investigation, The name of the driver has not been released.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The recently established the WVU Rapid Development Laboratory (WVURDL)at the WVU Health Sciences Center has streamlined testing and completely changed the procedure for the return to campus for WVU students on the Morgantown campus.
About five months into the pandemic, Governor Justice allocated about $3 million in CARES Act funding to build the automated robotic system that can process hundreds of PCR samples at a time. According to experts, PCR tests are much more reliable than the antigen method, but do take longer to process.
Before the WVURDL was in operation tests took up to five days to process. When large volumes of tests were required independent testing options had to be used to timely process results, according to Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop.
“Our turnaround times for a lot of people weren’t just within 24-hours,” Alsop said,” We actually had people that tested in the morning and we had results by the evening and for a PCR test that’s unheard of.”
Because it is a new concept the system was evaluated, monitored and checked to make sure the results of samples were reached properly. According to Alsop the lab is 99-percent accurate.
“The RDL lab went through some testing to prove that it was a very accurate PCR test,” Alsop said,” So, we think it is as accurate as anything out there from an industry standard perspective.”
According to the WVU COVID Dashboard, more than 16,000 students and faculty were tested six day period in preparation for the spring semester. The rapid testing technology also allowed officials to offer a “self swab” test for students who would take advantage of that option.
“We were a little worried that people wouldn’t be comfortable doing a “self swab,” in fact it’s been very popular and students didn’t mind it at all,” Alsop said,” One of the things it’s allowed us to do is staff things a little bit differently that will save from a cost perspective.”
The new technology has streamlined the pre-class testing process and has actually increased confidence and safety on campus.
“Having the ability to get results in one or two days at a max, as opposed to three-to-five days,” Alsop said,” It eases minds, and the quicker someone tests positive and you can get them into isolation and away from people the more we can prevent spread.”
When not in use for pre-class testing the lab is used to handle overflow from others areas of the state. Additionally, the RDL concept is becoming a model for other areas in the country.
“There are a lot of people looking at the governor’s decision to not do the federal national contracts, but to do something designed with the state that is a model and our Health Sciences Center should be proud of,” Alsop said,” There are a lot of people taking notice.”
MORGANTOWN, W.V.a. – Three staff positions will soon be filled in the city of Morgantown, according to city manager Kim Haws.
First, applications have been received for the position of Finance Director, however the announcement for position has been readvertised. The announcement closes on January 25, 2021.
The job announcement for chief of police is active and applications have been coming in prior to the February 4, 2021 closing date.
“We’ve received 20 applications,” Haws told council members,” We’re waiting for the time limit to pass and we will process those applications and try to do so as quickly as we can.”
The Planning Division conducts comprehensive planning, regulation for signs, subdivisions and buildings. Haws expects a hire to be made for that key position very soon.
“Just about finalized interviews for that position,” Haws said,” We’d like to offer that position in the next week or so.”
Haws has been on the job for a little more than one month, despite recovering from COVID-19 he has been meeting virtually with business owners in the downtown area.
“I’ll be glad when we can do face-to-face with them because I think that’s where the networking really happens,” Haws said,” But, at least we’ve been able to break that barrier even though it’s been virtual.”
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Classes are underway on the Morgantown campus of West Virginia University. Under the plan, all students and faculty have been tested for CIOVID-19 and about 37 percent of classes are in-person.
According to the WVU Morgantown COVID Dashboard, 14,093 students were tested and 1.1 percent or 168 students were positive. Tests were also conducted on 2,642 faculty and staff revealing 17 positive results were found for a .6 percent positive rate.
The majority of the COVID positive students quarantined off-campus, several elected go home and less than 75 quarantined in residence halls or University Apartments.
“When we were testing our residence hall students as they returned to campus the positivity rate was very low,” Corey Farris, Dean of Students said on WAJR’s Talk of the Town,” I’m incredibly pleased with that.”
Programs to welcome students back to campus like Up All Night have been shifted to all online.
In-person classes are being held for select graduate students, clinical programs, first year freshman classes and Capstone classes for seniors.
“As we designed our programs and designed how we were teaching classes and what classes would be in-person we listened to our students,” Farris said,” So, we did more of that over the semester break and we’ll do more of that during the spring semester.”
The protocols for COVID safety have not changed from the fall semester. Masks are required on all campus property, social distancing, hand hygiene and large gatherings are prohibited.
Despite those measures in-person instruction was suspended for about three weeks during the fall semester. The suspension occurred at Labor Day when large parties were broken up that had the potential to be super spreaders. Additionally, more than 50 students were either sanctioned, suspended or expelled for failing to follow the protocols.
“For those that have in-person classes, they want to be in the classroom,” Farris said,” They’re much more willing and understanding what the rules are and how to stay safe.”
University officials have added a page to their website about COVID safety and continue to use signage and other methods to keep students informed about what is expected and what the current status is.
“We’ll continue that gentle reminding that what they do certainly does impact the community from public schools to restaurants and bars,” Farris said,” We’re in the community and the students understand that.”
There have been fewer surprises for students as we are now ten months into the pandemic. Farris believes the lessons and consistency are great ways for the spring semester to begin.
“Even when they were at home with their family over semester break they stayed safe, they stayed indoors, they wore masks where ever they were,” Farris said,” That to me is a good sign as we start the semester