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The Voice of West Virginia

Big 12 elects to play 10 in 2020

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Big 12 Conference announced late Monday that they have adopted a “9+1” schedule format for the 2020 football season. League presidents and chancellors met Monday to discuss scheduling options.

Each Big 12 team will play their traditional round robin conference slate and one additional non-conference game. The league anticipates that conference play will begin in mid-September or late-September, with non-conference games completed prior to the start of league play. The Big 12 school must host the non-conference game. The league schedule will be solidified in the coming weeks.

The Big 12 Championship Game, currently scheduled for December 5, could be delayed by a week or two.

“I would like to salute the work of our university presidents and chancellors, athletics directors, coaches, medical advisors and administrators who have worked tirelessly and collaboratively during these extraordinary times,” said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.  “We believe this change provides the best opportunity going forward.  However, we will undoubtedly need to be flexible as we progress through the season in order to combat the challenges that lie ahead.”

West Virginia appears to be set with their non-conference game. Athletic Director Shane Lyons appeared on MetroNews Talkline Friday and said that Eastern Kentucky is still expected to visit Morgantown. That game is currently slated for September 12.

WVU is scheduled to open Big 12 play at home against Kansas State on September 26. The Mountaineers lost non-conference games against Florida State and Maryland due to new ACC and Big 10 scheduling policies.

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Orders close court systems in Logan, Lincoln counties

LOGAN, W.Va. — The increase of COVID-19 cases in southern West Virginia forced two county court systems to shut-down regular activities Monday until further notice.

Court orders from circuit judges in Logan and Lincoln counties provide for limited emergency hearings to be held.

Logan County Chief Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant signed an two-page administrative order citing information he had received from the Logan County Health Department.

According to Logan County Health Officer Dr. Livia Cabauatan, from March 18 to June 21 there were only 21 positive cases of COVID-19 in Logan County but from June 22 to July 30 the total was 119. Logan County’s cases had exceeded 140 by Monday.

Circuit Judge Will Thompson entered a similar order for Lincoln County Circuit Court Monday afternoon after the Lincoln County Commission called for the county courthouse in Hamlin to be closed because of the current threat.

Thompson signed an order last Friday closing most of the functions of the court system in Boone County for one week after an employee in the Boone County prosecutor’s office tested positive for COVID-19.

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Marsh says growing numbers show widespread nature of virus

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Hospitalization numbers in all categories in the Mountain State have reach all-time pandemic highs. The number of West Virginians in the hospital as of Monday was 116, 50 people are in ICU beds and 17 of those are on ventilators.

Clay Marsh

WVU Vice President & Executive Dean for Health Sciences Dr. Clay Marsh,, the state COVID-19 czar, said Monday the demographics of new cases here and across country are taking a notable turn.

“In Florida in April the average age of a COVID positive test was 65, today it’s 35, so young people are really driving a part of this expansion,” Marsh said Monday during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

More than 294,000 COVID-19 tests have been conducted statewide and the cumulative infection rate is at 2.36 percent. According to data from the DHHR, 23 percent of the positive tests are in the 20 to 29-year-old age group.

“As we are testing more people and we’re seeing this really spread everywhere now,” Marsh said. “I think that the number of positive cases underrepresented the real spread of the virus.”

.@claymarsh speaks with @HoppyKercheval about updated COVID-19 numbers in WV. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/qEdsJaUNq4

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) August 3, 2020

In Morgantown, where bars have been ordered closed since the middle of July, Gov. Justice extended that closure to Aug. 13 at midnight. Active cases have largely been in the under 29 age group but have dropped since a peak of 398 during the second week of July to 136 at the beginning of August.

“And that’s because in Morgantown at one point, 75 percent of the people that were testing positive in the Mon outbreak were between 18 and 29-years-old,” Marsh said.

Doctors have found evidence that the virus does damage to vital organs like the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. But it’s unclear whether some of this damage is directly caused by the virus or by secondary complications of the infection.

“We need to really underscore to our younger people that this is not just the flu,” Marsh said. “We need to pay attention and keep from getting infected because of these potential side effects.”

Marsh said data shows the virus has spread to all areas rural and urban. He said guidelines must be followed.

“We haven’t seen the worst of this yet, this thing is building up,” Marsh said. “We went through the first phase and we think we made it through, now we’re in the next phase, but until we have a solution for this thing will continue to evolve.”

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Kanawha County BOE approves in-person plan for re-entry

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Students in Kanawha County will go back to the physical classroom next month under the county’s plan voted into place on Monday.

The board for the state’s largest school district unanimously approved an in-person plan for the school system re-entry that includes a staggered return September 8-11, blended learning model from September 14-25 and an in-person 5-day option beginning September 28, in addition to a Kanawha County Schools’ Schoology option and West Virginia Department of Education virtual option.

The staggered return includes grades first, third, sixth, eighth, and eleventh going to the classroom on September 8. Pre-K, second, fourth, seventh, and tenth grades return to the classroom on September 9 while kindergarten, fifth, ninth, and twelfth grades go to school on September 10. Students online learning through Schoology will take place on September 11.

The blended learning model for September 14 through September 25 includes in-person classes for two or three days a week and online classes for two or three days a week. Students would be divided on schedules based on alphabetical order.

Beginning on September 28, 5-day in-person classes would begin. Parents would also have the option of having their kid(s) learn online five days a week either through Schoology or virtual learning. That decision must be made by August 11.

The Board approved an in-person plan for KCS re-entry: staggered from Sept. 8-11, blended from Sept. 14-25th, in person 5-day option beginning Sept. 28th IN ADDITION TO a KCS Schoology option & WVDE Virtual. The vote was 5-0. Further details will be avail. shortly on website.

— Kanawha County (@KCBOE) August 3, 2020

Board members agreed that the plan selected gives them time to see how the students are doing in the first couple weeks of school and how the virus is spreading.

Gov. Jim Justice hinted at making a major announcement about schools on Wednesday. Schools are allowed to open on September 8 at the earliest under his current plans.

Teachers in Kanawha County will report to school every day unless Justice issues any orders.

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Federal government provides West Virginia with $10.1 million for economic development

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Economic Development Administration is providing West Virginia with $10.1 million for economic development efforts in the state.

The money will go toward projects in Huntington, Bridgeport, Wayne and Scott Depot, which the agency says will create and retain more than 2,500 jobs and stimulate $69 million in private investment:

— Huntington Stormwater Utility in Huntington will receive $5.2 million for repairing the Huntington Floodwall and protecting downtown businesses from future flooding. The project is expected to receive a $1.3 million match in local funds.

— Benedum Airport Authority in Bridgeport will receive $2 million to renovate airport facilities, and the project is expected to receive $499,000 in local funds.

— Coalfield Development Corporation in Wayne will receive $1.7 million to rehabilitate three Matewan buildings for a “job-creation hub and training facility.” The project will be matched with $437,000 in local funds.

— The Putnam Public Service District in Scott Depot will receive $1.2 million for upgrading the community’s water capacity. The grant will be matched with $1.2 million in local funds.

U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced the funding on Monday.

“Improving our economy, revitalizing communities, and creating opportunities for West Virginians has been a top priority of mine since day one,” Capito said. “The EDA has been a tremendous partner as I’ve worked to make this a reality in West Virginia, and today’s grant announcements are welcome news as we continue our work together to provide needed support to projects across the state.”

Manchin and Capito spent part of Monday in South Charleston with Dana Gartzke, who leads the agency, and municipal leaders.

This morning, I’m in South Charleston with @US_EDA announcing more than $10 million in grants to several projects across #WV, including:
✅ Repairing Huntington’s floodwall
✅ Renovating the Clarksburg airport pic.twitter.com/IBfxfSobXT

— Shelley Moore Capito (@SenCapito) August 3, 2020

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Catholic schools in West Virginia plan to open with five day in-person instruction weeks

WHEELING, W.Va. — Department of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has announced a reentry plan for the fall semester that includes a five-day in-person plan.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (DWC) said in a news release that based on the recommendations and guidelines from worldwide, federal, state, and local experts, that a five-day a week physically present strategy will be implemented.

“Principals from all 24 Catholic schools across the state have worked closely with their local health departments, school communities and my office to develop plans to allow for the reopening of schools that meet local, state and federal guidelines,” Catholic School Superintendent Mary Ann Deschaine said in a released statement.

Mary Ann Deschaine

Deschaine pointed to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “strongly” supports students returning to the school building. A recently released statement from the AAP notes, “All policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”

“This is completely in line with our position,” she said. “Because we are Christ-centered, every choice we make, and plans we develop are prayerfully made with our students’ success and wellbeing in mind. We are a strong Christian family guided by our faith. Our learning environment will always focus on the social, emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental well-being of each child.”

Deschaine said she is proud of how her school system handled the end of the previous school year when the COVID-19 pandemic first arrived.

“I know without a doubt that our principals, staff, and teachers performed outstanding,” she said.

“Our families saw that, and our students will always remember how they continued to be challenged academically, and moreover won’t forget how they felt knowing their teachers genuinely cared about their mindset.”

DWC officials said these recommendations will be subject to change with little notice as COVID-19 changes in the state. Any additional details or changes will be given directly to all families by the administration of their respective school.

For more information on the reopening plans for each school, visit wvcatholicschools.org or contact the Catholic Schools central office at 304-233-0880.

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State officials warn that outbreaks in Logan and Raleigh counties have hit hospital staff

With coronavirus outbreaks affecting hospitals in Logan and Beckley and a nursing home in Princeton, Gov. Jim Justice is warning about the spread of coronavirus in West Virginia’s rural communities.

Gov. Jim Justice

“We’ve got three super hotspots that I’m aware of right now,” he said. “As we continue we’ll probably have more outbreaks.”

The prime concern, Justice said, is that outbreaks in surrounding states are contributing to spread in West Virginia.

He warned that West Virginians who travel to hotspots such as Myrtle Beach should be tested and then quarantine until they get results. He hinted that he might decide to make that mandatory.

“This terrible killer is moving from the south,” Justice said Monday during a regular briefing about West Virginia’s coronavirus response.

Bill Crouch

In Mercer County, the Princeton Health Care Center, which already had dozens of covid cases, had 16 residents hospitalized overnight Sunday, said Bill Crouch, director of the state Department of Health and Human Resources “so we have some real concerns.”

Crouch said three deaths have been associated with the nursing home.

“We have an outbreak there that is very serious,” Crouch said.

More broadly, Mercer County has been one of the state’s most active coronavirus hotspots with 124 active cases, according to DHHR.

In Logan County, a broader outbreak has included confirmed coronavirus cases among employees of Logan Regional Medical Center.

Crouch said 22 staff and five patients have tested positive at the medical center.

“It’s not just the hospital. There’s an outbreak in Logan County that we’re moving to tackle as quickly as possible.”

Logan County has 118 active cases, according to DHHR. The county’s court system announced a shutdown today because of the outbreak.

“It is absolutely ridiculous to have a hundred cases in Logan County,” Justice said.

In Raleigh County, an outbreak has affected Appalachian Regional Healthcare Hospital, where there were 11 active cases as of Monday morning. Some of those employees were nearing the ends of their mandated quarantine periods.

MORE: COVID-19 spread in southern West Virginia reflected in patients at Beckley ARH

CEO Rocky Massey told MetroNews the community’s coronavirus situation is broader than the medical facility.

“It’s just not the case that there’s an outbreak here at Beckley ARH,” Massey said. “Raleigh County is a hot spot, surrounding counties are even more of a hot spot.”

Raleigh County was listed with 68 active cases this morning.

State officials said the hospitals in Raleigh and Logan counties are still able to help with their communities’ medical needs, despite staff being affected by coronavirus.

Ayne Amjad

“I would say they can still participate in community health” because they have enough staff,” said State Health Officer Ayne Amjad.

Clay Marsh

Nevertheless, at the Logan and Beckley hospitals “it is the staff getting sick now, not just the patients,” said Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus response coordinator.

Justice said Marsh has been warning for weeks, “Do you realize we are in a transformational situation in which our doctors and nurses can get sick and if we lose them we’ll be decades before we’ll be able to replace that level of care within our state?”

Justice added, “Today, we are very concerned about staff that are getting sick. As those people are sick, we can’t cover for the others.”

The governor, as he said during briefings last week, is worried about increasing numbers of cases in surrounding states like Kentucky and Ohio.

He also warned West Virginia residents to get tested and quarantine if they travel to an out-of-state hotspot, specifically mentioning the popular Myrtle Beach area.

“We have got to have you test yourself, quarantine yourself until those tests come back,” Justice said.

Marsh, speaking this morning on MetroNews “Talkline,” said the spread of the virus is broad now, including in rural areas.

“Those numbers should really make all West Virginia people take notice,” he said.

He much of the growth in West Virginia’s numbers has been because of spread among young people.

“It’s spreading among young people,” he said, citing growth among 18- to 29-year-olds. “The young people are really driving at least a part of this expansion.”

.@claymarsh speaks with @HoppyKercheval about updated COVID-19 numbers in WV. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/qEdsJaUNq4

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) August 3, 2020

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Rockwool decides natural gas over coal at Jefferson County plant

RANSON, W.Va. — With less than a year before Rockwool is scheduled to open its wool insulation plant in Jefferson County, the Denmark-based company is moving forward with plans to use natural gas as the facility’s fuel source.

The company last week announced plans to use natural gas for its melting furnace, adding the move would result in a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Michael Zarin, Rockwool’s vice president of group communications, told MetroNews affiliate WEPM-AM the move will be a “game changer” in the industry in regards to sustainability.

“To our knowledge, we’re the only ones in the industry who have this ability,” he said.

Zarin said the company already uses the technology at a Danish factory, with plans to expand its use to another facility in Denmark and a plant in Poland.

“At our factory in Denmark, the one that we often refer to as the prototype for the Ranson factory, we’ve been testing and further developing our ability to run the melting process using gas,” he added. “The testing in Denmark went better and faster than we anticipated, which gives us the confidence to start up operations on gas instead of coal.”

According to Zarin, Mountaineer Gas will be providing natural gas to the facility and the necessary infrastructure has already been built.

When asked if Rockwool will have to submit new air permits, Zarin said it would not be necessary.

“The emissions are going to go down or be neutral across the board,” he said.

Rockwool’s plans in the Eastern Panhandle have garnered protests related to environmental and public health concerns. Rockwool already has a facility in Mississippi, making the Jefferson County location the company’s second plant in the United States.

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State takes next step to ready St. Francis as COVID surge hospital

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state is building on a process it began in April and will prepare St. Francis Hospital in downtown Charleston to be used as a surge hospital for COVID-19 patients if needed.

Governor Justice

Gov. Jim Justice announced the move during his coronavirus media briefing Monday at the state capitol.

“We’re doing this as a test run to absolutely be ready in every way,” Justice said.

Work began four months ago with St. Francis owner Thomas Health System to prep the facility for up to 75 patients. It hasn’t been needed because COVID-19 patient counts have stayed relatively low across the state until now. Hospitalizations were at 116 Monday afternoon.

State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said there’s currently plenty of room in hospitals in West Virginia to treat COVID patients. He said there are enough ICU beds and ventilators. He said hospitals are filling up though with other patients undergoing elective procedures.

“Our hospitals have really activated again to catch-up on what people didn’t have done during the initial phase of the COVID pandemic,” Marsh said Monday.

State Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said 15 beds will be prepared at St. Francis this week.

Bill Crouch

“That number could increase as needed as we go forward,” Crouch said. “The surge hospital is designed to treat coronavirus patients diagnosed at medical facilities across the state who are primarily in need of active short-term care or rehabilitation services. Transfers will be coordinated through DHHR and the Thomas Health Transfer Center.”

Marsh said it also be used for nursing home patients transitioning back into those homes after a COVID-related hospital stay.

“There is oftentimes a hesitation to accept people who are transferred from an acute care hospital back to a nursing home sometimes so St. Francis could also provide for us an outlet,” Marsh said.

Thomas Health President and CEO Dan Lauffer said they are glad to work with the state.

“We continue to work through this pandemic together. Thomas Heath and Saint Francis stand ready to care for the community during this difficult time,” Lauffer said. “It’s part of our mission, it’s part of being a faith-based institution.”

Crouch said they’re still not sure the surge hospital will be necessary but they’ll be ready if it is.

“We’re trying to make sure we have a back up plan in place to know everything is in place as needed as we move forward,” Crouch said.

The state said no visitors would be allowed to COVID-19 patients transferred to St. Francis, iPads will be provided to allow for scheduled televideo visits.

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Despite economic difficulties, Justice says West Virginia enters new fiscal year in solid shape
Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice and the state revenue secretary say West Virginia got through the financial challenges of the past fiscal year far better than expected, putting the shape on solid financial ground for the start of the current fiscal year.

“Our economy has just kept percolating and percolating and percolating along,” Justice said today.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the nation’s economy hard, and Justice acknowledged that. He talked about the state’s financial situation today during the first of two briefings. The second briefing was about the virus response.

As the pandemic first started to take a toll on the economy, Justice said the state considered steps like using Rainy Day fund money or furloughing employees, but looked to find other ways.

The governor said state leaders were able to muddle through the end of last fiscal year by using some money that had been set aside for Medicaid expenses, by seeking reimbursement for expenses related to the coronavirus response and because the tax base did not plummet as badly as originally expected.

“We have the chance of coming out of this in better shape than when we entered this from an economic standpoint,” the governor said today.

Dave Hardy

Justice and Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy said the state is one month into the new fiscal year with a $243 million surplus.

That’s largely because the state delayed income tax filings until July 15. Hardy said consumer sales taxes and severance taxes have also brought in more than anticipated.

“It was borderline miraculous,” Hardy said of the financial outlook at the beginning and how the state ended up.

Justice and Hardy expressed optimism about the state’s financial picture for the rest of the year, despite continued concerns about the spread of coronavirus and how that is affecting the economy.

Congress is still talking about another relief package but has not been able to reach an agreement, and a $600-a-week expanded unemployment benefit has expired.

The Council of State Governments assessed how all 50 states are prepared to deal with the economic shock of the pandemic. The study suggested West Virginia is relatively well-prepared, based on factors such as financial reserves and unemployment and pension obligations.

The study estimated West Virginia could be lined up for a $646 million state revenue decline this fiscal year, along with a $101 million increase in Medicaid expenses.

The report offered additional warning signs, too:

“For many states, payments toward the high volume of unemployment claims will become unsustainable without borrowing additional funds or other interventions. The states with the fewest weeks of unemployment benefit funds remaining as of the onset of the COVID-19 recession are Texas, New York, California, Kentucky, and West Virginia.”

Justice and Hardy, when asked about the report’s projections, said they do not consider the state’s upcoming situation so dire.

“We don’t agree with that projection at all,” Hardy said.

Justice went farther, describing West Virginia’s economy as diversified, particularly in the areas of manufacturing, tourism and tech industries.  He said the housing market is “booming beyond belief.”

But he offered no specific statistics.

“West Virginia is really the diamond in the rough that everybody’s missed,” he said.

Justice is also banking on additional federal relief and increased flexibility to use that money to meet state government expenses.

“We have the chance of coming out of this in better shape than when we entered this from an economic standpoint,” he said.

The National Governors Association has said states need more help meeting their shortfalls. A statement issued last week by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, the top officers of the association, continued to ask for federal aid of $500 million over the next three years.

“Financial aid to states is one of the most important economic tools available to the federal government. While the Senate proposal is disappointing, we continue to believe there is significant common ground for an agreement that will help state and local governments,” they wrote.

“Nearly every category of state and local revenue is experiencing pandemic-related losses. States and localities that rely on income taxes are seeing much lower revenue due to high unemployment. Sales tax income is also declining due to the sharp drop in consumer spending and store closures. Limited travel means less revenue from gasoline taxes for transportation projects.”

Justice, in his briefing today, also indicated West Virginia would benefit from federal financial help.

But he also said West Virginia is in good financial condition.

“This is a miracle. That’s all there is to it. It is amazing,” the governor said.

“The state of West Virginia is in profoundly great shape.”

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