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West Virginia approaches 1,900 coronavirus cases

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is on the verge of reaching 1,900 confirmed coronavirus cases following additional numbers reported Wednesday evening.

According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, 1,899 cases have come back positive out of 89,460 tests. Seventy-four West Virginians have died.

The daily coronavirus rate from Tuesday evening to Wednesday evening fell from 7.11% to 3.19%. The cumulate rate is 2.12%.

The department also released new numbers about confirmed cases and probable cases in each county:

Barbour (9/0), Berkeley (286/11), Boone (9/0), Braxton (2/0), Brooke (4/0), Cabell (58/2), Calhoun (2/0), Clay (2/0), Fayette (47/0), Gilmer (10/0), Grant (10/1), Greenbrier (9/0), Hampshire (23/0), Hancock (15/2), Hardy (38/0), Harrison (39/1), Jackson (135/0), Jefferson (164/3), Kanawha (214/2), Lewis (6/0), Lincoln (5/0), Logan (16/0), Marion (51/0), Marshall (28/0), Mason (15/0), McDowell (6/0), Mercer (13/0), Mineral (39/2), Mingo (5/1), Monongalia (121/8), Monroe (6/1), Morgan (17/1), Nicholas (10/0), Ohio (41/0), Pendleton (9/1), Pleasants (4/1), Pocahontas (16/1), Preston (17/5), Putnam (33/0), Raleigh (15/1), Randolph (104/0), Ritchie (1/0), Roane (10/0), Summers (1/0), Taylor (9/0), Tucker (4/0), Tyler (3/0), Upshur (6/1), Wayne (97/0), Wetzel (9/0), Wirt (4/0), Wood (51/3) and Wyoming (3/0).

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Census office reopened in Beckley; workers back in the field

BECKLEY, W.Va. — The U.S. Census field office in Beckley has reopened after weeks of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assistant Director for Communications for the U.S. Census Stephen Buckner appeared on Wednesday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ and discussed what Census workers can do now in that area.

Buckner said workers can deliver the Census questionnaire packets to the doors of P.O. Box or non-city style addresses in the southern portion of the state.

US Census

Stephen Buckner

“That operation was suspended as COVID hit right at the beginning of April. We had to wait until it was safe to go back out there and deliver it, much like an Amazon package or mail,” Buckner said.

“Then our Census worker would also have a laptop and update that address in our system to make sure we have an accurate count.”

The Census workers are only dropping off the packets but may start to knock on doors beginning the second week of August. Buckner said that’s only if the questionnaire is not filled out.

Around 290,000 questionnaires have been delivered, according to Buckner. He said when workers go out in August, all safety guidelines will be taken.

“All Census workers will have CDC training on how to interact with the public to make sure that we are not putting the public or our staff at risk. They’ll have face masks and gloves but only use them if that is what the local health authorities tell you to do because it varies by jurisdiction,” Buckner said.

Assistant Director for Communications for the U.S. Census @stephen_buckner joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss the opening of a Census field office in WV. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) May 27, 2020

West Virginia has a response rate of 47.7 percent, around 13 percent below the United States response rate. Counties in the Beckley area including McDowell, Summers, Wyoming, and Mingo are at the bottom of the state response rate for the 2020 Census.

Buckner noted how crucial it is to self-report during this time period. The deadline for all responses for the Census has been pushed to Oct. 31 due to the virus.

“It saves the taxpayer money because it’s a lot less expensive to collect data when you self-respond versus having to send somebody to your door,” he said.

“It’s also really important. It’s written in the Constitution, it helps gets your political representation in Congress but also means hundreds of billions of dollars back to local and state governments for social service programs.”

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Crouch: Medical marijuana looking at Spring 2021 start date

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said it will be next year before medical marijuana can be offered to state residents through a state-run program.

Bill Crouch

“We’ve sped this up as much as possible and we’re looking at actually making the product available in Spring 2021,” Crouch said Wednesday when he spoke during Gov. Jim Justice’s coronavirus media briefing at the state capitol.

The Medical Cannabis Act, approved by state lawmakers in 2017, allows cannabis to be used for certified medical use by state residents with a serious medical condition. The law allows for 10 grower permits, 10 processor permits, up to 100 dispensary permits and unlimited lab permits. The state Office of Medical Cannabis received 285 total permit applications in February.

Crouch said Wednesday the review of the growers and processor applications has been completed and the 30-day response period for applicants is approaching its deadline. He said the review of dispensary permits, which takes a little longer, continues.

Crouch said the office has worked during the pandemic with the goal of “providing eligible state residents with the ability to procure quality tested medical cannabis as soon as possible.”

State lawmakers passed a follow-up law to the 2017 act that allows applicants to apply for permits in different categories.

The Office of Medical Cannabis announced Tuesday that it will begin accepting physician registrations for the program on Thursday.

Doctors must complete a registration application and complete a four-hour education course online.

“Physician registration and training are essential steps to make medical cannabis available to West Virginians with serious medical conditions,” office director Jason Frame said.

The registration period for physicians is indefinite.

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Three Guys Before The Game – Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens

He may live and work nearly three thousand miles from Morgantown, but Rob Mullens’ heart will never leave West Virginia.

On the verge of becoming the longest tenured athletic director in the Pac-12 Conference, Mullens joins Brad Howe and Tony Caridi for a conversation on a number of topics.

The “Guys” discuss the challenges of COVID-19 facing the Pac-12 along with Mullens’ role as chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

They also track his rise from a student at WVU to overseeing one of the nation’s most popular and successful athletic programs.

Join the “Guys” again next week as they visit with former WVU quarterback Jake Kelchner.

Text or leave a voicemail for the show anytime at 304-404-4083.

Look super cool by wearing Three Guys merchandise.

Never miss an episode, subscribe below.

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Yeager Airport seeing turnaround in passenger numbers after record lows

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Following record-low enplanement numbers during parts of April, Yeager Airport is seeing a turnaround in passengers flying at the Charleston facility.

In mid-April, the airport was sitting at a 95 percent passenger decline with 15 to 30 people flying per day and two to five flights taking off a day as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country.

Following the airport’s monthly board meeting on Wednesday, Airport Director Nick Keller told MetroNews that days in May have varied between 80 and 90 people flying a day with Saturday, May 23 hitting 155 passengers.

Keller said the airport still has a long way to go in recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as the normal average for this time of the year is over 700 passengers per day.

Nick Keller

“It’s great to see the numbers going back up. With all the cleanings going in airports and on airplanes, I do not think flying is unsafe. So I think people are ready to travel, especially this summer. Hopefully, we continue to see an increase,” he said.

The revenue numbers in April reflected the lows of enplanements as Keller said the airport suffered a loss of about $380,000 in revenue compared to the budgeted amount. That number was better than what the board estimated at its April board meeting of up to $800,000.

Keller told MetroNews he predicts another revenue loss in May but better numbers in the summer months. The airport is currently putting together its budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, and preparing for a slow rebound.

“We’ve cut over $700,000 in our budget for next fiscal year. We’ve eliminated some positions that were open and unfilled. We are just trying to take prudent actions and be conservative in our planning. We will use the CARES money we received from the FAA to backfill any losses projected in our budget,” Keller said.

Keller said members are predicting a passenger count around a fifth of normal operation and it will be reflected in the budget. He said it could take up to two years for the airport to get back to normal averages with enplanements.

“For our next budget year, we are planning to have only 20 to 25 percent of our normal passenger count. That’s to be conservative because we just don’t know,” Keller said.

“If there is another wave of the virus that causes confidence to decline in travel and quarantine then we just don’t know.”

During the April board meeting, the board accepted the CARES Act grant funding through the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) which totaled $4,810,956. The airport has not had to lay off any employees and has used part of the CARES Act money to give hourly workers a “Hero Pay” bonus.

Operations are getting back to normal as Keller said the Capital Jet Center plans to have normal employee rotations next week. The maintenance staff at the airport is working in day-night shifts to avoid being all together.

Following the meeting on Wednesday, the airport announced the Spirit Airlines seasonal service from Yeager to Myrtle Beach International Airport will resume on July 2. The flight was scheduled to start in April but was pushed back due to COVID-19 and related travel restrictions.

The flights are currently scheduled to operate on Thursdays and Sundays through September 6th.

Keller expects the Spirit flight to Orlando to come back to three days a week soon, along with other flights that were lost due to the virus as airlines across the country begin to rebound.

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Appalachian Power looks for cause of underground fire in Bluefield

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — A problem in the underground electrical system in downtown Bluefield Wednesday morning caused a series of explosions and heavy smoke.

Appalachian Power Company spokesman Phil Moye said the system experienced a fault and safety measured kicked in.

“We had a fault condition that our system sensed and that’s what caused the outage,” Moye said.

The Bluefield Fire Department was dispatched to Bland Street after a report of an explosion and smoke coming out of a manhole. Soon after their arrival, firemen reported two more underground explosions.

“That’s alarming if you see smoke coming out of a vault but it’s something we’re on top of,” Moye said.

There was no immediate word on what caused the original fault. Moye said Appalachian Power crews were waiting for water to be pumped out of the vault so they could take a closer look.

“It’s a very reliable system but when we do have a problem with it sometimes it’s just difficult to access,” Moye said.

There were no injuries reported.



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Morgantown native Mark Downey returns to ‘second home’ at Arkansas Tech

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After a decade away from Arkansas Tech, Morgantown native Mark Downey has returned to lead the Wonder Boys for a second time. Downey led ATU from 2006-2010 and left Tech to coach his alma mater at the University of Charleston.

“Arkansas is where I met my wife. She is an alum of Arkansas Tech,” Downey said. “It was home for my wife and a second home to me. There’s a lot of good people there and they treated us very well. We were number one in the country in the final poll in 2010 and were upset in the NCAA Tournament.”

Downey led ATU to Gulf South Conference Tournament championships and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in each of his final two seasons. He led the University of Charleston for three seasons before moving on to become the head coach at the University of West Alabama (2013-14), assistant coach at Bowling Green State University (2014-15) and assistant coach at Purdue University-Fort Wayne (2015-18).

After four seasons as an assistant coach at the Division I level, Downey returned to Division II as head coach at Northeastern State University (Okla.) in 2017. Downey engineered an 18-11 record this past season.

“I wanted to be a head coach again three years ago and was lucky enough to get the job at Northeastern State. We thought we would be here a long time but Arkansas Tech came calling.

“We were recruiting for the last three years in the same region. We had two freshmen on our team last year from Arkansas. We have two commits from Arkansas coming in. Just being in this region the last three years and recruiting at the same level, it made it a lot easier for us. Prior relationships have helped us get six signees so far and we will probably get one or two more.”

Downey considered going to medical school after graduating from the University of Charleston in 1995 but the coaching bug caught him and has kept him in the game ever since.

“We know there are more important priorities of faith, family and books. We know those things have to be taken care of and those things are high priorities. But basketball has to be right behind those. If it is not and you just do it because it brings you a little bit of joy, then you are probably going to have a hard time playing for me.”

Downey’s wife Ericka garnered national attention in 2018. She donated one of her kidneys to former Texas A&M head coach Billy Gillispie. The two had never met until months after the surgery.

“It is wonderful to see the way things have worked out. People tell her all the time, ‘Thank you for the story. It has helped me want to donate a kidney to my brother, or I have put my name on the donor list’. She has done a great job about getting the word out and really promoting it. It has been fun to watch.”

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North-South all-star football game canceled

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The annual North-South all-star football game is yet another mountain state sports event canceled due to the pandemic. The official announcement from game organizers came on Wednesday.

A fixture on the June sports calendar in West Virginia, the game has traditionally attracted many of the top high school football graduates from all corners of the state.

The game was originally scheduled for June 13 at South Charleston High School but was postponed to July 10 in the hopes that an extra four weeks would allow health-related conditions to improve and allow the game to be played.

The North Bears were scheduled to feature J.R. House Award winner (state’s top quarterback) Brandon Penn (Parkersburg South), MetroNews Player of the Year from Martinsburg Jarod Bowie, 2018 Curt Warner Award winner (state’s top running back) Hunter America (Doddridge County) and 2018 Randy Moss Award winner (state’s top receiver) Malakai Brown.

The South Cardinals were expected to be led by 2019 Randy Moss Award winner Drew Hatfield (Mingo Central) and fellow Glenville State commits Liam Fultineer (Mount View) and Logan Spurlock (Capital).

North Marion’s Daran Hays and Greenbrier East’s Ray Lee were named head coaches for the game.

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Lottery sales miss mark by $64 million in April due to pandemic

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With video lottery machines turned off and casinos shuttered, the West Virginia Lottery missed revenue estimates in April by $64 million.

The forced closure of Limited Video Lottery retailers and casinos because of the coronavirus pandemic meant there was no revenue at all for the month from thousands of community slot machine parlors or the five casinos the state regulates.

“Total sales, we were down $64 million from projections,” Lottery Deputy Director Dean Patrick told members of the state Lottery Commission at their Wednesday meeting, which was held via conference call.


John Myers

Lottery Director John Myers told members that amazingly the Lottery’s traditional games, made up of instant ticket sales at retailers along with online ticket sales, brought in $18.2 million for the month.

“That actually exceeded some sales for the same time in previous years,” Myers said. “It’s surprising. I think we all were questioning what level of sales we would have with that.”

Lottery Commission Chairman Ken Greear agreed.

“With the impact of all of the retailers that have been shut down, that is remarkable,” Greear said.

Gov. Jim Justice has given Limited Video Lottery retailers the go ahead to reopen this Saturday. Myers said the Lottery is working with the retailers. He said it’s possible not all would be ready to go right away. Casinos are allowed to reopen June 5.

Justice was asked during his Wednesday media briefing if he was concerned about large crowds that could gather at casinos.

Gov. Jim Justice

“Sure we’re concerned and we’re going to stay concerned but at the same time West Virginia’s numbers are phenomenal when compared to bordering states,” Justice said.

He added masks should be worn and good hygiene and social distancing should be practiced.

“I would encourage our casinos that they’ve got to try with all in them to protect the people there, to protect the integrity of the casinos and do the great practicing (of social distancing) that I know they can do too,” Justice said.

The Lottery has generated $823 million in sales after 10 months of the fiscal year. At this time last year total sales were just under $945 million. In April 2019, the Lottery brought in $96.1 million in total sales compared to last month’s $18.2 million.

The Lottery had pre-pandemic sales in February of $95 million but sales for March came in at $59 million. The Lottery had $1.14 billion in gross revenue last fiscal year.

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With numbers mounting in Huttonsville, Justice pledges testing at all W.Va. corrections facilities

Gov. Jim Justice has pledged to test inmates and staff across West Virginia’s corrections system after confirmation of a rapidly growing number of cases of coronavirus at the prison in Huttonsville.

“As we continue to expand our testing capability, we should test every single inmate and every single staff person at all our facilities. We should move in that direction as quickly as our testing capability allows us to do so,” Justice said during a briefing today.

“There could be asymptomatic cases in other facilities. The likelihood is very strong.”

State officials had been testing inmates who exhibited symptoms of coronavirus, and for a long time that did not produce any confirmed cases.

But last week, after one inmate at Huttonsville Correctional Facility tested positive, Justice ordered testing for all inmates and staff at the Randolph County prison that can house about 1,000 inmates.

“They deserve to be protected just as much as I deserve or any of us deserves,” Justice said today.

By this morning, the intensified testing effort led to confirmation of 83 cases for inmates and another eight for staff that previously were unknown.

After additional results came in, an afternoon update from the governor’s office said the confirmed cases for inmates had risen to 102.

“We know we have issues here, and we want to continue to address every one of those. That’s why we’re going to embark on testing everyone,” Justice said today.

Correctional facilities, because of their confined nature, have been a focal point across the nation because of the spread of coronavirus.

A report for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this spring concluded, “Prompt identification of persons with COVID-19 and consistent application of prevention measures within correctional and detention facilities are critical to protecting incarcerated or detained persons, staff members, and the communities to which they return.”

Still, testing at West Virginia facilities has been very limited.

Aside from Huttonsville, there have been 43 total tests administered at 10 West Virginia prisons through 9 a.m. today, according to a daily report.

There have been 92 tests at West Virginia’s 10 regional jails.

At three community corrections facilities in Beckley, Charleston and Parkersburg, only one test has been administered so far.

There have been four tests administered at West Virginia’s juvenile corrections centers.

COVID19 DCR 2020 05 27 1500 (Text)

Cody Thompson

Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, whose district includes Huttonsville sent a letter to state officials asking for all inmates and staff at nearby Tygart Valley Regional Jail to also be tested.

” As we hear reports of more and more positive results from testing at this facility, I would encourage your administration and the Division of Corrections to recognize the severity of the situation and do all in your power to protect our correctional officers and other employees from the risk of spread of this deadly virus,” Thompson wrote.

A coalition of civil rights, faith, and health advocacy organizations earlier sent a letter urging Justice to commit to testing in prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers. The groups issued a statement today applauding the governor.

They also also urged additional steps such as prioritizing personal recognizance bonds for suspects at misdemeanor pretrial hearings, more latitude for home plans for people in state prisons who are nearing parole eligibility and pose no threat to public safety and early release for people in regional jails who have three months or less left in their sentence if there’s no indication that they would pose an immediate threat to public safety.

Lida Shepherd

“As the governor has been proactive in many ways amidst this pandemic, we hope he will take necessary steps to reduce jail churn and prison overcrowding,” stated Lida Shepherd with the American Friends Service Committee . “This is a matter of public health and safety.”

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, a think tank, has focused on how coronavirus could affect corrections facilities in West Virginia.

Today, the center praised Justice for committing to expanded testing in jails and prisons.

Seth DiStefano

“The governor’s public commitment today to testing all those incarcerated and working in the state’s correctional system is a positive and necessary development,” stated Seth DiStefano, policy outreach director.

“We look forward to specific details regarding the timeline of testing for all inmates and staff at all facilities. We also want to lift up our concerns about how many are being newly incarcerated as the pandemic remains just as dangerous as ever.”


Betsy Jividen

Appearing on MetroNews’ “Talkline” following today’s briefing by the governor and top staff, West Virginia Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen indicated a plan is still developing.

“Based on the governor’s directive, we are going to identify the resources, we’re developing the best plan, the testing capacity will be examined,” Jividen said.

“Everyone will bring their expertise to the table, and we will start to proceed with this.”

West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Commissioner Betsy Jividen talks with @HoppyKercheval about COVID-19 updates and the Huttonsville COVID-19 spike. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) May 27, 2020

During today’s briefing with the governor, state leaders expressed particular concern about what could happen in West Virginia’s jails as the courts system resumes having more hearings in person.

“We have people coming in and out the front and back door every day. We need to protect our communities,” Jividen said during today’s briefing.

Clay Marsh

Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus response coordinator, echoed that. Marsh said regional jails need to be a priority for testing because of inmates going in and out.

“I would say we need to do that very quickly,” he said.

But pressed for a timetable, state leaders didn’t yet have one today.

“We have already planned and need to move rapidly to testing these facilities,” Marsh said.

In early March, West Virginia started taking heightened precautions with the corrections system, including strict limitations on visitors.

Huttonsville and all other corrections facilities have personal protective equipment, including enough cloth protective face coverings for every inmate and staff member, according to state Military Affairs and Public Safety. All staff are required to wear masks, and that has been extended to Huttonsville’s inmates as well.

Precautionary measures for the corrections system include restricted movement within facilities to avoid contact between housing units; curtailed inter-facility movement and transports; sanitization of eating and gathering areas after each use; more frequent cleaning of high-touch areas; and isolation and quarantine protocols both for new arrivals and for inmates who exhibit symptoms.

“We have had no problems up until Huttonsville, and everyone knows about that,” Jividen said.

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