The Voice of West Virginia
Gov. Jim Justice is hosting Vice President Mike Pence for a gathering at The Greenbrier this weekend, but he says he doesn’t know much about it.
Justice says he isn’t looped in on The Greenbrer’s preparations, even though his family owns the resort.
He says he doesn’t know whether the crowd for the Trump-Pence fundraiser will meet the state’s guidelines limiting gatherings to 25 people or fewer, even though it’s his executive order and he’s the host of the event.
All he knows, the governor said today, is it’s not a fundraiser to benefit his own campaign and he will be friendly to the vice president of the United States.
“This is not a fundraiser for me, and it’s an absolute fundraiser for our president and our vice president,” Justice said today.
“I’ll be there, and I’ll greet our vice president as I always would try to do. But from the standpoint of how The Greenbrier’s handling it or the size of the crowd, and everything, there will be no crowd and I’m sure The Greenbrier will handle it very well.”
The event is this Saturday at the resort owned by Justice and his family.
The price to participate is not pocket change. The invitation starts with roundtable seating available for $25,000 a person.
There’s an $11,200 per person level that includes a photo opportunity.
There’s a $2,800 per person luncheon.
Or those who can’t attend are invited to give whatever they can.
Justice, owner of The Greenbrier as well as coal and agriculture holdings, often describes a close relationship with President Trump, a fellow Republican who refers to him as “Big Jim.”
Pence is chairman of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Justice is leading West Virginia’s coronavirus response, with daily briefings urging people to wear masks, wash hands and stay away from large gatherings.
“The event with Vice President Pence will adhere to all COVID-19 mask requirements, social distancing, and personal protection policies recommended by local, state, and federal governments,” said communications director Clay Sutton for Justice’s re-election campaign.
The governor last month lowered West Virginia’s social gathering limit from 100 people down to 25.
“The 25-person limitation applies only to purely social gatherings,” according to state guidelines.
The limit does not apply to “group meetings, conferences or other special events held for essential businesses and operations, as defined by the emergency order signed by Justice. “Such meetings, conferences, or other special events will need to plan for social distancing between attendees based on CDC recommendations.”
Justice today did not discuss which one of those kinds of gatherings might describe a political fundraiser.
The host of the event said he does not know how many people will be there.
“I think the numbers they’re going to target that are going to be there are not very many people,” Justice said. “This is not a fundraiser where you’ve got, you know, 400 or 500 people. It’s nothing like that, and everything.”
The Greenbrier’s owner also said more than once today that he is not looped in on the planning.
“From the standpoint of The Greenbrier handling it and everything, I have no idea,” he said. “I have no contact with those people from the standpoint of how they’re handling this at all.”
Gov. Jim Justice says his administration will soon unveil a way to measure whether the rate of coronavirus spread will allow for the reopening of schools, but the governor also said reopening decisions should be left to local school system leaders.
“Local control should rule, and that is what we’re going to do,” Justice said. “Local input is going to rule the day.”
School systems around the state have been producing plans for students to return at a target date Sept. 8. Most are offering options to families, who must choose.
The governor has said he wants to return to classrooms while assuring the health of students, teachers and staff.
Justice has described a color-coded map that would depict whether the level of virus spreading in counties would allow school to remain open. But the factors to determine whether a community’s status is red, orange, yellow or green haven’t yet been revealed.
“I’m awaiting all kinds of information coming from the Department of Ed,” Justice said today. “I expect that information to flow back to me by the end of the week.
“It is a culmination of a lot, a lot of information that’s going to give us guidance on how we’re going to be able to under local, local control, we’re going to be able to reopen our schools and we’re going to be able to be flexible, fluid and close our schools when we have to.”
In a separate meeting of the state Board of Education, schools Superintendent Clayton Burch indicated the standard would be a 7-day rolling average, “not a yo-yo number,” for communities. He suggested it would be updated twice a week.
“It’s where we get to orange and red that decisions have to be made,” Burch told state school board members.
Being shown as red or orange wouldn’t necessarily mean a long-term closure, Burch said, but it would mean shutting down classrooms until mitigation measures have been achieved.
Coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh and Bill Crouch, secretary of health and human resources, are preparing to present the measurement system to the governor late this week, Burch said.
Burch said he is often asked whether 55 counties will really open on Sept. 8.
“Sept. 8 is quite a ways away,” Burch said, noting the uncertainty of the entire situation.
“But the fact of the matter is, we have counties preparing that have to have a contingency plan.”
He described the efforts when schools abruptly closed last spring as “triage” but said the plans coming in from counties “are much more robust.”
“We continue to hear ‘Why don’t we just start the year with remote learning?'” Burch said. He concluded, “This idea of closing schools and resorting to remote learning is a big, big mistake.”
Because different communities have different resources, including access to high-speed internet, starting the school year from home would result in disparities.
“We just don’t have the means for every child to participate virtually right now,” Burch said.
Board member Debra Sullivan sought assurance that state officials are examining local plans carefully.
“I’m trusting and I’m sure you’re going to reassure us the plans are being scrutinized,” Sullivan said.
Burch assured her that some have been sent back for a greater level of detail.
Justice said local leaders have responsibility for the return to school in their own communities.
“So we’re still full-steam ahead to go forward but everybody around, while they’re full steam ahead, everybody around is looking and watching and worried and able to pivot and able to be fluid in what we decide and do,” Justice said.
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(MetroNews Talkline interview with Marshall AD Mike Hamrick)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Like the American Athletic Conference and the Sun Belt, Conference USA is moving ahead with plans for a full 2020 football schedule.
For Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick, open weeks in September need to be filled quickly. The Herd has lost three of their four originally scheduled non-conference games due to the ACC’s new policies and season cancellations by the MAC and the Mountain West. The Herd’s regular season finale against Old Dominion is also off the board as the Monarchs decided not to compete this year.
“We are going to play someone in our division twice home-and-home,” Hamrick said. “So the conference is putting that together. We do have the game at East Carolina. The American Athletic Conference has indicated that they are moving forward.”
The ECU game, which will memorialize the 75 victims in the 1970 plane crash, will be moved off its original August 29 slot to a new date.
“We currently have an FCS game scheduled. We hope that that holds tight. We’ve got a couple other people that we are talking with right now to try to fill the holes in our schedule. I would like to play at least ten games — five here and five on the road. And possibly eleven if I can get six here.
“It is devastating to us because we had probably the best home schedule in the history of Marshall University with non-conference opponents Boise State and Pittsburgh coming to Huntington. Obviously, that is not going to happen. We are trying to fill in the best we can.”
Hamrick says that in Marshall’s latest round of student-athlete COVID testing within the entire program, 196 tests produced 1 positive result.
“As long as we can keep our student-athletes safe, our coaches, staff and fans safe, we are moving forward with football. We have a very good protocol with our student-athletes as related to COVID. We have a very extensive testing program that we continue to use. And I feel that our student-athletes are as safe in our environment, in our protocol in our athletics program as they are anywhere else.
“The minute I feel that they are not safe, then I would be an advocate for shutting it down.”
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Tyrone Sally’s career at West Virginia is perhaps one of the least told best stories in school history.
The Chesterfield, Virginia native was a sea of calm in the most chaotic chapter of WVU’s basketball history. He played for four coaches in his first year on campus. There were numerous opportunities to look for a more stable environment but he refused.
The result was a magical time that produced highlights and memories that brought a collective smile to WVU fans everywhere.
The soft-spoken Sally takes Mountaineer fans on a wonderful detailed journey of his career with stories you’ve never heard before.
The “Guys” return next week with a new episode. Leave a voicemail or text the show anytime at 304-404-4083.
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Gov. Jim Justice again closed visitation to West Virginia nursing homes, citing a rising death toll and outbreaks at several facilities.
“We have got in some way with all in us to calm this down,” Justice said during a Wednesday briefing about the state’s coronavirus response.
The West Virginia Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities, expressed sorrow over the situation that families are facing but said Justice had to make a difficult decision.
“While we continue to advocate the benefits of having in-person visitation with loved ones, we understand Governor Justice’s desire to implement a temporary pause on visitation to reassess guidance related to community spread,” stated Marty Wright, chief executive of the association.
“Our providers stand ready to work with the governor and his administration to implement a revised reopening plan that will more pointedly incorporate local considerations into visitation guidelines. In the meantime, our resourceful caregivers are prepared to reinstate creative methods to assist our residents in maintaining regular contact with their families until they can once again visit in-person.”
West Virginia locked down and completed mass testing of all nursing homes early in the coronavirus response as Justice publicly recognized the vulnerabilities of residents.
On June 17, as part of the loosening of stay-at-home orders, the administration allowed for more comings and goings from facilities around the state.
About 30 West Virginia nursing homes are experiencing outbreaks right now, state officials said this week, although that can mean as few as one resident with a confirmed case.
Among the most serious outbreaks as described by state officials are at Pine Lodge in Beckley, Grant County Rehabilitation and Care Center, Trinity Healthcare Services in Logan County and Princeton Health Care Center in Mercer County.
The situation in Princeton has been particularly tragic, with 33 active cases among residents, 16 among staff and at least 13 deaths. The facility’s medical director contracted the virus, had to be put on a ventilator and was flown to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.
“Closing nursing homes to visitation is a difficult thing for families. We made that recommendation to the governor by looking at the number of outbreaks we have,” said Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Justice acknowledged the difficult position this will create for families who will be unable to see loved ones face-to-face, saying “I would feel just disarmed; I wouldn’t know what to do.”
The governor added, “It’s really, really, really sad.”
But he said the virus had been brought into facilities, sometimes by staff going in and out or possibly by families during visitation.
“From all of that we’ve probably done some things we shouldn’t have done from the standpoint of people traveling as they do on similar summer vacations; they’ve probably gone into infested areas; and all of a sudden we’ve brought this killer back to West Virginia,” Justice said.
Justice and Crouch promised to soon deliver more guidance on what level of virus spread in communities should prompt tighter restrictions in nursing homes.
“We never did define ‘substantial community spread,” Crouch acknowledged today.
The state first promised to deliver that guidance on June 17.
Justice pushed out the state health officer, Cathy Slemp, on June 24, a week after nursing home reopening guidelines were introduced.
A new state health officer, Ayne Amjad, was named on July 10. Amjad has been getting up to speed right as the pandemic has picked up, stretched in her duties because she is also serving as interim director of the Mercer County Health Department.
Today, Justice described renewed efforts to present a standard for judging how community spread would affect nursing homes — “something that’s going to be out in days.”
Crouch added, “We’re looking at that alert system as well as the school alert system as well as the definition of ‘substantial community spread.’ We should have something out soon on all of that.”
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FAIRLEA, W.Va. — When Kelly Tuckwiller Collins rolled into her office at the State Fairgrounds in Greenbrier County Wednesday morning the fair’s marquee flashed “365 Days until the Fair.” The CEO of the State Fair of West Virginia admitted it was a heart breaker since it should have been the start of The State Fair of West Virginia 2020.
“Today would have been our final set up day. Our vendors would be here, the rides would be getting inspected and livestock would be rolling into the gate. It’s so sad to think about what could have been this year and what actually happened this year. I know we’re not the only ones disappointed,” Collins said.
Fair Board members reluctantly cancelled the 2020 event in June amid fears about Covid 19 and a near impossible task of adhering to health safety guidelines. After all, the State Fair is an event which treasurers big crowds. The decision was a blow to many. Some vendors and non-profit groups lost big since their budget is usually based on the proceeds they reap from fair week.
The Fair has tried to help out where possible. A “Taste of the Fair” event is happening through the summer and fall with longtime vendors serving up fair food favorites to the public on a limited basis. This weekend a Junior Livestock Show will be held on the grounds, although closed to the public. Collins said it was a chance for the 4-H and FFA students to finish up projects on which they worked so hard.
About all Collins and her team can do now is what the sign says, look forward to 2021. However, she admitted even that’s not as easy as it may sound.
— State Fair of West Virginia (@SFWV) June 18, 2020
“When we got to March and heard about Covid 19, nobody dreamed it would be affecting us in August but here we are. When we look to 2021, we have to think it’s still probably not going to be a normal fair,” she said.
She anticipated there are changes which will be required for safety precautions and social distancing, even for next year’s event. Collins said what those changes may be is still not known and it’s hard to make decisions now about an event which is a year away under present circumstances.
One thing they have done is to start booking entertainment. The Fair is know for big time acts. Only one of the acts from 2020 was able to reschedule. Collins said the three biggest acts for this year had conflicts during next year’s fair week.
“We have to think there’s going to be some changes we’re going to have to make and it’s really hard to think that far in advance, but we have already started booking concerts,” she said.
INSTITUTE, W.Va. — Students, faculty and staff are back on campus at West Virginia State University to begin the fall semester in what will be anything but a normal semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
West Virginia State (WVSU) was the first institution in the state to begin class, which started on Monday, to allow for the semester to end before the Thanksgiving travel season.
Everyone in Institute is now adjusting to life on campus during a pandemic with specific policies and procedures in place by WVSU officials and health administrators.
Beth Billups, a senior from Kanawha County credited the university’s rules in place which include a health screening station and face-covering requirement at every building.
“Yes, I feel safe here on campus,” she told MetroNews on Wednesday.
WVSU’s “Focus on WVSU: Reopening This ‘Place We Love So Dear'” plan includes health measures developed based on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance.
Health and Well-Being Measures include:
– Enforce social distancing protocols of six-feet spacing where possible;
– Require face coverings for all who enter campus properties;
– Install Plexiglass shields at all appropriate administrative offices and teaching spaces;
– Control access points of entrance and exit of all buildings for the purpose of screening those who enter;
– Perform temperature checks at each building;
– Develop signage in order to control flow of traffic in hallways and stairwells;
– Develop a central dispensary for personal protective equipment (PPE) and provide the same to all campus users, giving special consideration for those who deal with the public and those in at-risk populations;
– Increase the frequency and availability of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and other cleaning products;
– Reduce touch points to the maximum extent possible; and
– Create an open line of communication for all students, employees, and the general public through the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.
Thank you to all our students, staff and faculty for working together to help us successfully reopen campus this week. Please continue to follow all safety protocols and remember that masks must be worn at all times unless in your office or residence hall room. pic.twitter.com/Pj2kWcKdya
— WV State University (@WVStateU) August 11, 2020
Jack Bailey, a WVSU spokesperson explained the health screening stations, “Any of the buildings that have classrooms or business offices in them, you will come up to a health screening station where you will have a temperature checked and have a series of health questions to answer.
“Once you answer the questions and shown you do not have a high temperature, you receive a sticker and that sticker is good for that day and allows you to go through campus and not have to go through the screening process again.”
Bryson French, a WVSU junior from Winfield said all the procedures are a lot to adjust to.
“There’s a lot of adjustments, especially for the people that are staying here. That’s very different as far as what they can and cannot do when they return to campus and the dorms,” he told MetroNews.
French is a member of WVSU’s baseball team, which had the majority of its spring season canceled when the pandemic arrived in March. Now, French and his team are playing the waiting game as NCAA Division II has already canceled the fall sports championships.
“Basically our whole season was canceled, we got to play a couple of games at the very beginning,” he said of the spring. “Going into this fall, we still have not been able to practice or that much really. We are still not sure how that is going to turn out.”
Being a music major, Billups said her extracurricular activities have also been put on hold such as ensembles, proper rehearsals and marching band were canceled.
“It’s definitely hard being a music major in this season of life but it is what it is,” she said. “You know what? It’s just a blessing in the long run because if this ever happens again or if I have to go virtual as a teacher, I am going to have experience as a student and know how my students feel.”
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A day after the Big 10 Conference and the Pac-12 Conference announced the cancellation of fall sports throughout their leagues, the Big 12 is pressing on with plans for the 2020 season.
The conference released their revised 2020 football schedule Wednesday morning. All ten Big 12 schools will open league play on Saturday, September 26. Regular season play will continue through Saturday, December 5. The conference championship game will be played on December 12.
“The Board continues to believe that the health and well-being of our student-athletes must guide all decisions” commented Board of Directors Chairman and TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini.
“To that end the Board has consistently relied on the advice and counsel of top medical experts to determine the viability of available options. Our student-athletes want to compete, and it is the Board’s collective opinion that sports can be conducted safely and in concert with the best interests of their well-being. We remain vigilant in monitoring the trends and effects of COVID 19 as we learn more about the virus. If at any point our scientists and doctors conclude that our institutions cannot provide a safe and appropriate environment for our participants, we will change course.”
League commissioner Bob Bowlsby said conference officials heard from a host of medical experts at a meeting on Tuesday evening.
“Last evening, we had a team from the University of Kansas that was very helpful is helping the board think through the issues. We also had a representative from the Mayo Clinic that works in genetic cardiology. They provided some very helpful information.”
Big 12 members have committed to enhanced COVID-19 testing that includes three tests per week in “high contact” sports, like Football, Volleyball and Soccer. Additionally, return to play protocols after positive occurrences will include an EKG, troponin blood test, echocardiogram, and cardiac MRI. Non-conference football opponents must also adhere to COVID-19 testing protocols that conform to Big 12 standards during the week leading up to competition.
“The virus continues to evolve and medical professionals are learning more with each passing week,” said Bowlsby. “Opinions vary regarding the best path forward, as we’ve seen throughout higher education and our society overall, but we are comfortable in our institutions’ ability to provide a structured training environment, rigorous testing and surveillance, hospital quality sanitation and mitigation practices that optimize the health and safety of our student-athletes. We believe all of this combines to create an ideal learning and training situation during this time of COVID-19. Ultimately, our student-athletes have indicated their desire to compete in the sports they love this season and it is up to all of us to deliver a safe, medically sound, and structured academic and athletic environment for accomplishing that outcome.”
Six of the ten FBS conferences plan to proceed with their respective seasons at this time. The Big 10, Pac-12, Mid-American and Mountain West conferences are looking at options for a spring football season. The ACC and SEC join the Big 12 as ‘Power 5’ conferences still playing to play in the fall.
“I don’t know that we would want to be the only college playing football. To the question about the postseason, that pretty much eliminates the postseason. (ACC Commissioner) John Swofford and (SEC Commissioner) Greg Sankey spend a lot of time together and we spend a lot of time comparing notes. I think it is unlikely that we would diverge without a fairly significant conversation.”
“When the Big 12 announced a revised 10-game season, we knew that the schedule would change and there would be some flexibility built in to handle any COVID-19 disruptions,” WVU athletic director Shane Lyons said. “This new schedule provides us with the nine league games, the one nonconference date and the ability to plan accordingly.”
All Big 12 sports’ competitions will commence after September 1. To ensure consistent health and safety protocols, volleyball and soccer matches will be limited to conference opponents only.
Bowlsby cautioned that ultimately the fate of the fall sports seasons can rest in the hands of the student-athletes themselves.
“A lot of the success of the teams going forward is how many potholes we fall into. It has to do with whether or not young people can discipline themselves to not go to parties where there are hundreds of kids in close contact.”
2020 WVU Football Schedule
- September 12 – vs. Eastern Kentucky
- September 26 – at Oklahoma State
- October 3 – vs. Baylor
- October 17 – vs. Kansas
- October 24 – at Texas Tech
- October 31 – vs. Kansas State
- November 7 – at Texas
- November 14 – vs. TCU
- November 28 – vs. Oklahoma
- December 5 – at Iowa State
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Massachusetts man faces federal charges of threatening and attempted extortion of a Kanawha County Judge.
Keith Lessard, 40, of Uxbridge, Mass. was arrested this week on charges he sent threats to the judge through the mail and via e-mail attempting to extort money.
“Anytime there’s a threat to a member of the judiciary at any level, federal, state, or local, we take that very seriously,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart of West Virginia’s Southern District.
According to the criminal complaint, Lessard’s correspondence with the judge was part of a scheme to extort money from her by threatening to sully her reputation. The threats involved claiming she had been part of an illegal prosecution on a 2010 criminal case against Lessard. The judge at the time was an assistant prosecutor for Kanawha County. The complaint added there was no evidence to back up Lessard’s claim of illegal conduct on her part.
“I have made personally a big deal out of public corruption, but it also works the other way which is an elected official or judge is extorted to act in a way that’s not consistent with their behaviors of the past,” Stuart said.
Stuart said when they first learned of the allegations they wanted to move quickly on the case.
“Typically you might see an indictment, but we moved by virtue of the complaint and we now have 30 days to obtain an indictment against this individual, which of course we will do,” he added.
Paperwork in the case did not identity of the judge. Stuart said all crime victims have the right to privacy and they tried to honor that in the criminal complaint.
“We do the best we can that every victim of any crime doesn’t become a double-victim by being named explicitly in these documents,” he said.
If convicted of the charges, Lessard could face up to two years in federal prison.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The deaths of six more West Virginians were included in updated coronavirus information the state Department of Health and Human Resources released on Wednesday morning.
The six additional confirmed deaths were a man from Mercer County, 85, two women from Mercer County, ages 81 and 79, a woman from Grant County, 82, and two men from Logan County, ages 80 and 42.
“Today is a difficult day in our fight against COVID-19,” said Bill Crouch, DHHR secretary.
“Our hearts go out to all who are grieving during this time.”
In all, 153 deaths in West Virginia were attributed to COVID-19.
The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases dating back to March was at 8,008 as of Wednesday out of 335,075 total lab tests. Active cases added up to 1,895, according to DHHR.
For hospitalizations, the number was 135, a pandemic high, with 48 of those people in intensive care.
West Virginia’s cumulative infection rate was 2.85 percent.
The daily infection rate was 2.39 percent.
CASES PER COUNTY (Case confirmed by lab test/Probable case): Barbour (29/0), Berkeley (685/28), Boone (109/0), Braxton (8/0), Brooke (69/1), Cabell (418/10), Calhoun (6/0), Clay (18/0), Doddridge (6/0), Fayette (154/1), Gilmer (17/0), Grant (128/1), Greenbrier (92/0), Hampshire (80/0), Hancock (107/4), Hardy (60/1), Harrison (232/3), Jackson (166/0), Jefferson (292/7), Kanawha (962/14), Lewis (27/1), Lincoln (95/0), Logan (264/0), Marion (189/4), Marshall (126/4), Mason (66/0), McDowell (59/1), Mercer (208/1), Mineral (125/2), Mingo (181/2), Monongalia (936/17), Monroe (19/1), Morgan (29/1), Nicholas (39/1), Ohio (269/3), Pendleton (41/1), Pleasants (13/1), Pocahontas (41/1), Preston (104/21), Putnam (202/1), Raleigh (259/8), Randolph (206/5), Ritchie (3/0), Roane (16/0), Summers (15/0), Taylor (58/1), Tucker (10/0), Tyler (15/0), Upshur (36/2), Wayne (212/2), Webster (4/0), Wetzel (43/1), Wirt (7/0), Wood (252/12), Wyoming (37/0).
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