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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University began in-person for some programs August 19, by August 26 all first year students and graduate students were in classrooms or in clinical settings. The Morgantown campus went to online instruction September 8 following a spike in COVID positive students and fears of increased spread from a series of large house parties.
Officials say the public health situation will be re-evaluated on September 23 and announcement will be made if in-person learning will resume on Monday, September 28 as planned.
As a result, dozens of students have faced sanctions, up to and including expulsion for COVID conduct violations.
WVU president Gordon Gee told the board that the vast majority of students on campus understand the purpose of the guidelines and follow them. He added that during this time staff and faculty should monitor the mental well being of students.
“We know the in-person learning experience is important,”Gee said,”Many young people nationwide have found their mental health suffering profoundly during the pandemic and forced isolation.”
Vice president of strategic initiatives, Rob Alsop provided a COVID case update during the Friday Board of Governors meeting.
“Since July 20, from a student perspective we’ve had 911 positives, however that’s just for our students,”Alsop said,”For our our faculty, since July 20 we have only had 17 positives.”
According to the WVU COVID-19 Dashboard, the cumulative positive rate for students is 2.04 percent and the numbers on quarantine or isolation are falling.
Provost, Maryanne Reed plans a two week delay for the spring semester, but said enrollment numbers for the fall semester are better than expected.
“Our overall enrollment is down just three percent, which is a relatively small decrease under these challenging circumstances,” Reed said,”Graduate enrollment is up slightly and enrollment in exclusively online programs is up 17 percent.”
While WVU leadership has focused on returning to the classroom this fall, they are still caring for students infected with the virus, conduct enforcement and improving online learning.
Reed says enrollment for the spring semester will be delayed two weeks and they plan to use lessons learned from this fall, public health data and expert advice before announcing the method of delivery for the spring semester.
“We’re being careful not to rush into that decision,”Reed said,”To make sure we have as much information as possible about the public health situation in the spring.”
In an effort to preserve operating cash, the BOG was asked to allow a reimbursement measure. The measure could allow the university to issue $20 million in bonds if cash reserves for capital projects run low.
Despite the pandemic and constant changes the research program at WVU set a record last fiscal year and on pace to set another record this year.
“Last fiscal year which ended in July the university had its’ best ever record in funded research activity with $190 million in sponsored research,”Reed said,”Our number were up in July and August.”
The Board of Governors meeting will be held on November 6.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A report from the Mon County Sheriff’s Department says human remains were found in the Trope Hill area Thursday night at 6 p.m.
Mon County deputies, members of the Granville Fire Department and Mon County Emergency Services recovered the body and sent it to the state medical examiner who is expected to positively ID the subject.
No other information is available at this time.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wants council members in Morgantown to reconsider moves to reform police operations that may violate state law.
“The Office of the Attorney General is of the opinion that the Morgantown City Council does not have the legal authority to enact any municipal ordinance purporting to conduct investigations of complaints relating to members of the Morgantown Police Department,”Morrisey said,”As any such ordinance would conflict with the provisions of W.Va. Code.”
The leadership of FOP Lodge 87 has also expressed concerns the proposed ordinance that would create the Community Police & Citizens Review Committee would violate Chapter 8 of West Virginia State Code. FOP members delivered a letter council members with their concerns.
Morrisey also points to the state law that creates a Police Civil Service Commission in each city to investigate complaints against officers that could lead to disciplinary action. The state law also gives exclusive authority to the Police Civil Service Commission to appoint, promote, reinstate, remove, discharge, suspend or demote any paid police officer.
In a letter to council, Morrisey urges the elected officials to work closely with local law enforcement to develop procedure changes.
MORGANTOWN — The spike in COVID-19 cases in Monongalia County — forcing public schools to begin the year with remote learning and prompting cancellation of extra-curricular activities — has been almost exclusively driven by cases with in the West Virginia University student population.
But the virus has not spread throughout the county or into surrounding areas.
That was the conclusion drawn by Monongalia County Health Officer Lee Smith as he presented data compiled since the beginning of July to local officials on Thursday.
“The [WVU students] amount of input causing community spread is very minimal,” Dr. Smith explained.
Click here to see Mon County COVID-19 Data
On Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice announced changes to how WVU students are counted in the metric that determines the status of county school systems. COVID-19 positive students isolating at Arnold Hall are now counted as a congregate setting, much like nursing homes residents, rather than individuals.
“Students are very quickly isolated and put in quarantine,” said WVU Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop. “We do think there is low risk of community spread with the protocols we have at Arnold [Hall].”
Smith detailed data going back to July, when Monongalia County experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases, then primarily due to a combination of travel, no face coverings, and people gathering in large numbers. Those numbers declined following executive orders from Governor Justice mandating the use of masks and ordering the closure of bars in the county.
Cases began to trend upward again at the end of August, as a limited number of WVU students arrived in town ahead of the start of the fall semester.
Smith explained that as positive case numbers among WVU students grew, cases throughout the county saw little change. For the 7-day period between Sept. 7 and Sept. 15, new cases per day identified in the WVU student population ranged from 39.5 to 22.0. In the rest of the community, the number of new cases per day topped out at 5.4.
Another indicator that the virus has remained largely contained within the WVU student population, according to Smith, is the fact that surrounding counties have not experienced a spike in cases.
Officials estimate that 15,000 people live outside the county but commute to Monongalia County every day for work. As of Thursday, Preston, Taylor, and Wetzel Counties were the “green” category on the Department of Health and Human Resources County Alert System map.
Marion and Harrison were both in the “yellow” category. Smith added Fayette and Greene Counties in Pennsylvania would also be considered “green” counties under West Virginia’s metrics.
“We’re very encouraged by the conversation taking place and that Charleston is allowing it to happen,” said Monongalia County Schools Superintendent Dr. Eddie Campbell.
Wednesday’s change to the metric has drawn sharp criticism from some, including both the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia. Commissioner Tom Bloom emphasized, no one came with preconceived notions.
“Let the numbers speak for themselves,” Bloom said.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The 10 a.m. DHHR report has moved Mon County from red to orange, it’s the first time for the county to be out of the red since the color coded map system has been in place.
The county is now below the 25 cases per 100,000 threshold for red at 23.27.
The changing metrics give Mon County deputy superintendent hope that teachers and students can return to the classroom soon. But, if map were to go to gold this Saturday, the switch to the blended option would still be one week away.
“We’re going to commit to one more final week of remote learning,”Talerico said on WAJR’s Ask the Educators,”Then if need be, and if the colors indicate we will pivot to our blended model program.”
The blended option rotates half of the student population every other day to reduce the numbers in each building. Talerico says the move blended learning will get teachers somewhat back to normal and described their current workspace.
“They have a couple of computers in front of them, they have a microphone,”Talerico said,”They have all the attributes that I see in this radio station.”
The county is benefiting from the governor’s $6 million plan to install 1,000 WiFi hotspots at school, libraries and state parks. Mon County School officials have taken that a step further by outfitting 17 busses with hotspots and positioning them throughout the county. These plans, combined with Chromebooks keep students learning and teachers teaching.
“That’s the beauty of the Chromebook,”Talerico said,”You don’t have to have the immediate connectivity, you can download it and complete it after that.”
If Mon County remains orange, or even becomes gold Saturday night it will have immediate implications according to Talerico.
“I believe everyone will be watching closely at 5 p.m. Saturday,”Talerico said,”I think some of our coaches would be ready for a practice Saturday evening.”
More importantly, the move to gold would also mean in-person classes could resume for the first time in almost seven months.
“Seventy percent of our families had indicated on their survey they would like that blended model of have the children in school,”Talerico said,”And nothing replaces the face-to-face instruction with really good educators.”
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Monongalia County Health Department will conduct a free testing event from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, at the WVU Rec Center.
“Because up to 40% of people who have COVID-19 do not display symptoms, we encourage anyone who believes they should be tested to come out on Friday,” said Dr. Lee B. Smith, MCHD executive director and county health officer. “We really need to get a handle on this
virus in our county.”
During the last event at Mylan Park Sunday, Sept 13, 557 tests were administered between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The WVU Rec Center test site will walk-in only with masks/face coverings and social distancing required.
The tests will processed by Q-Labs.
The West Virginia National Guard and West Virginia University are assisting with the event.
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Sixteen people have been rounded up this month in a multi-agency operation, many of the suspects were arrested in the Morgantown area.
“We arrested 16 out of 17 individuals and ended up in four different states,”U.S. Marshal Terry Moore said,”Eleven of those individuals were arrested around the Morgantown area, five were arrested in Detroit, one in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland.”
The suspects are accused of conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine base.
Alonzo Eugene Travis, age 27, of Detroit, Michigan
Tyron Terreono Adams, age 26, of Detroit, Michigan
Darius Dashawn Wade, age 26, of Grosse Pointe, Michigan
Willie Clark, age 27, of Warren, Michigan
Schuyler Davis, age 30, of Detroit, Michigan
Kyle Alexander Martin, age 33, of Morgantown, West Virginia
Kenneth Burns, age 34, of Morgantown, West Virginia
Jeremy Hamlin, age 41, of Morgantown, West Virginia
Donald Noel Smith, age 41, of Oakland, Maryland
Alyssa Demus, age 30, of Fairmont, West Virginia
Candis Sanders, age 38, of Morgantown, West Virginia
Daniel McClung, age 40, of Morgantown, West Virginia
Daniel Meadows, age 49, of Morgantown, West Virginia
Andrew Benson, age 34, of Morgantown, West Virginia
Larry Bruce Heaster, age 55, of Morgantown, West Virginia
Lance Smith, age 46, of Confluence, Pennsylvania
“The majority of those were presented before the U.S. Magistrate and released on bond,”Moore said,”The ones from Detroit are pending hearings there before being rextradited to West Virginia.”
While this operation won’t completely stop the flow of illegal drugs into the area, Moore believes it will slow the flow temporarily.
“It should slow, at least this organization that these individuals were involved with,”Moore said,”From bringing narcotics from the Detroit, Michigan area to West Virginia.”
The U.S. Marshals are looking still searching for Candice Marie Adams, age 40, of Morgantown.
“All tips can be anonymous, if that’s what the caller chooses,”Moore said,”They can call us at our main phone line which is 304-623-0486.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration, the Mon Metro Drug & Violent Crimes Task Force, a HIDTA-funded initiative, and the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office participated.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Leadership at MUB, one of the largest public utilities in the state, will change in January when current general manager Tim Ball steps down after a 33 year career. Recently, Michael McNulty was selected to assume general manager duties when Ball exits.
McNulty is currently the general manager of the Putnam Public Service District, has extensive experience in the industry and in leadership capacities across the state. He holds a Master of Science in Public Administration from Marshall University and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from West Virginia Institute of Technology. Throughout his 31 year professional career, he has served as assistant general manager of Logan County Public Service District, technical analyst for the WV Public Service Commission, and Executive Director of the WV Rural Water Association. He also currently serves as the President of the WV Rural Water Association.
On WAJR’s Talk of the Town, McNulty said coming to Morgantown will be a pleasant challenge.
“Morgantown Utility Board is the “gold standard” of utilities in West Virginia, hands down,”McNulty said,”Morgantown is a great city, it’s growing, it’s exciting, so much is going on up there it’s attractive for anyone to want to relocate there.”
In the 2018-19 audit prepared by Marietta, Ohio-based Perry & Associates, MUB lists more than 26,000 water connections, more than 22,000 sewer connections and about 15,000 storm water accounts. Also, MUB is engaged in in more than $100 million in upgrades to the water and sewer system.
“Everybody remembers the water crisis a few years ago- look at MUB, leaders in the industry,”McNulty said,”Building a reservoir, getting ready to tackle that issue if it ever comes, let’s hope it doesn’t it’s going to be a great insurance policy if we ever need it.”
McNulty believes his diverse background will give a little different perspective to the utility.
“I’m bringing a very different background to MUB-I’ve been a regulator,”McNulty said,”The 11 years I spent with the State Public Service Commission, a lot of experience in utility regulation and also working on the technical assistance side.”
Current general manager, Tim Ball has had a 33 year career with MUB, he’ll step down in January of 2021. Ball says he’ll spend more time with family and possibly take some road trips, if the pandemic allows.
“We will be working close together, be it physically or virtually until the end of the year,”McNulty said,”I think we’ll have plenty of time together so I can learn more from Tim about the projects that are ongoing and coming up.”
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Members of Morgantown city council received an update on the ordinance to establish a Community policing & Citizens Review Board. Committee chair, Zack Cruze expressed concern over the questions raised by the members of the Monongalia-Preston Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 87.
“It’s alarming to me that there is push back on a citizens review board without any finalization or participation in the development of what that review board would do,”Cruze said.
The proposed committee would, in the event of a complaint involving police officers and their use of excessive force, power or unprofessionalism, this committee would compile it’s own independent investigation. This would include holding hearings of those involved in said incident and an internal review of the incident at hand, the findings discovered and discussions of recommended discipline. These recommendations would then be submitted to the Mayor and Chief of Police to take further action on.
According to the president of FOP Lodge 87 Scott Carl, Morgantown Police officers are not members of a union, nor do they have the ability to collectively bargain or strike. Because of this, Chapter 8 in West Virginia State Code provides regulations for how civil service employees are not to be treated.
Deputy mayor, Rachel Fetty told council members there is a wide cross section of the Morgantown community.
“We are very, very lucky and privileged to be working on a civil review board with a wide variety of folks who represent virtually are of our community,” Fetty said.
Additionally, the city of Morgantown currently has a three member Police Civil Service Commission, one member each nominated by the Chamber of Commerce, the city of Morgantown and the FOP. Information on the city website says the current commission develops and administers tests for police service in the city, promotions, appointments and conduct hearings when charges are brought against and officer or there is possible reduction in rank.
Jerry Summers is the chairman of the commission nominated by the chamber, Charles Chico is the city nominee and Keven Clark was nominated to the commission by the FOP.
“This board they want to form wants to have power over hiring, firing, discipline and investigation of police officers,”Carl said,”That’s our problem with it, there’s already a civil service commission.”
Carl contends the city committee was formed with little input from Morgantown Police officers and no input from members of FOP Lodge 87.
“We don’t have a problem with them overseeing, looking at our training and asking questions,”Carl said,”Why do they want to form this board when number one, one already exists and number two, the resolution they wrote up violates Chapter 8.”
Chapter 8 of West Virginia State Code provides the rules for employment agreements bit cities and municipal workers. The code goes into detail about pay, holiday work, conduct, qualifications and dispute/incident resolution.
“There is already something in place and they are ignoring that to put something else in place,”Carl said,”Under state law they cannot supersede this or ignore it, they have to work within it unless they get the state law changed.”
Lodge members have requested a meeting with all concerned to discuss ways work together moving forward.
“We are not responding to any kind of malfeasance or wrong doing or contention there is,”Fetty said,”We are simply doing this as a way to protect our citizens, protect our state, protect our municipality and protect our community.”
The Community Policing & Citizens Review Committee meets on Mondays at 3 p.m.
“If people have concerns about what the citizens review board is or want to participate in the formation of the language for that ordinance it’s a public committee and everyone is free to come speak,”Cruze said.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Mon County Delegate John Williams has sent a letter to governor Jim Justice asking for $25 million in CARES Act funding for small businesses and bars. The letter cites the dependence of the local economy on the student population, the ongoing mandated closure and the fact that similar business in 54 other counties in the state remain open.
Williams said in part,“I agree with measures that have been taken in mitigating transmission, and I do not write to oppose them. I do write to you today however, to ask that our uniquely affected businesses be indemnified in their time of greatest need.”
Justice first announced the bar closures on July 13. The bars were reopened Monday, August 31 and quickly closed the following Tuesday when images of hundreds of students without masks, not social distancing began appearing on social media.
Many bar owners have said privately this second shut down following the initial stay at home order could put them out of business for good.
In a telephone interview with WAJR News, Delegate Williams noted the significant tax contribution Mon County, likely more than $25 million, and asked the governor to consider the potential lasting impact.
“While I believe in the success of the $5,000 grant program that’s been going on the last couple of months,”Williams said,”I believe that Mon County and the businesses, because they are uniquely effected, they deserve this solution.”
Williams went on to say in the letter,“I have been tremendously supportive of, and appreciative of, the CARES Act funds that you put towards small business grants. With that in mind, I respectfully request that you allocate an additional $25 million in small business grants for Monongalia County bars and other industries that have been affected. While this amount may seem high at first glance, I believe it is fair and proportional based upon tax collection figures from our county.”
“The CARES Act funds are meant to stretch us as long as we can,”Williams said via phone,”I felt the $25 million was a good number to try to get us through this difficult time.”