The Voice of West Virginia
The sexual assault trial of a former Marshall student continues in Huntington this morning. Two have been charged in last falls double murder over a hunting lease in Greenbrier County. Restaurants try to navigate through Covid 19. The State Board of Education meets today with a lot of pandemic issues on the table as schools prepare to restart in West Virginia. Joe Biden selects a familiar name as his running-mate for President. In Sports, the Big 10 and Pac 12 say no football–but it’s still not known for certain what the Big XII will do. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning Podcast.
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Coronavirus cases in Harrison County continue to increase, and local health officials are concerned about the recent rise in cases at long-term care facilities.
According to Chad Bundy with the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department, the county overall has 225 coronavirus cases 56 of those are active. This includes cases involving four employees of the Elmcroft of Maplewood assisted living facility in Bridgeport.
The results of tests for other employees and residents are expected to be available by Saturday.
Bundy said the recent case increase is mostly because of work settings and travel.
“Over the last couple weeks, we’re averaging about four to five cases per day which is an increase for Harrison County,” he said. “We are concerned in looking at those numbers.”
Harrison County Schools is offering voluntary coronavirus testing as employees head back to institutions ahead of the new school year. Buildings will open on Aug. 18, and voluntary testing will take place Aug. 25 and Aug. 26.
The post Harrison County officials worried about increasing cases appeared first on WV MetroNews.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Congress is not scheduled to have any votes until September, leaving top congressional leaders and the Trump administration continuing to negotiate a fifth coronavirus relief measure.
Discussions fell apart last week before legislators left for the August recess. President Donald Trump on Saturday signed executive actions related to the pandemic, including an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said on Tuesday’s “MetroNews Talkline” lawmakers should have stayed in Washington, D.C. until a deal was reached.
“It’s embarrassing that the leadership is basically taking a position of politics versus the position of the need of the people,” he said. “Both sides are guilty.”
Trump’s actions included signing a directive asking the U.S. Department of Treasury to defer payroll taxes through the rest of the year as well as a $400 weekly unemployment supplement, in which states have to cover 25% of costs. The addition is less than the $600 which expired last month.
Manchin said he was not surprised by the president’s actions.
“I knew that he was going in that direction. If they’re playing politics, they played right into his hand,” Manchin said. “On the other hand, he has to understand the Constitution doesn’t allow him to do that.”
The money for the supplemental unemployment payments will come from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, a $79 billion account.
“We’re in the midst of a hurricane season,” Manchin said. “It will be wiped out and the coverage will be bare.”
Manchin said a possible next package needs to address Americans’ concerns, including providing funding for education and health care efforts related to the pandemic.
“Really, what we should be doing is looking at what is going to get us through this pandemic,” he said. “We know that we’re probably going to be in a crisis until January until they have a commercial vaccine distributed through this country. If that’s the case, what do we need for education? What do you need for health?”
Both congressional chambers are expected to be back in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 8, but the House of Representatives does not have any votes scheduled until the evening of Sept. 14.
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This week, the Justice administration highlighted alarm about how coronavirus spreading through West Virginia communities has endangered the fragile residents of nursing homes.
“This situation just shows us over and over and over how vulnerable, especially, our nursing homes are,” Gov. Jim Justice said during a Monday briefing.
But the administration has left unresolved its own clarification of how nursing homes should take greater precautions when starts spreading more frequently from person to person in communities.
On June 17, the Justice administration issued guidance to loosen restrictions at West Virginia nursing homes but left to be determined a key factor to assess their safety.
The administration came up with color-coded guidelines allowing nursing homes to loosen all the way to green if conditions were stable. The status could back up to blue or red if a facility had a case of coronavirus — or if there was “substantial community spread” as defined by the state.
The system was not unlike the color-coded maps proposed to let communities know if it’s safe to open schools. For that plan, West Virginians are waiting for a “metric” that would signal whether the spread of virus is stable or getting out of control.
And, similarly, the nursing homes for weeks have been awaiting the state’s definition of “substantial community spread.”
Nursing homes are back in the spotlight because coronavirus has swept through several in West Virginia, resulting in fatalities and lockdowns.
Governor Justice said this week said all nursing homes in the state need to go through another round of covid testing, except he expressed doubt about testing capacity. And he also suggested nursing homes may again need to be restricted from any outside visitors.
“Absolutely, we should absolutely be more concerned, have a broader approach,” Justice said, describing nursing home deaths in facilities across the country.
“This thing attacks the old, and we absolutely need to protect our old and know that is the number one target of this killer.”
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.
The guidance released by the administration allowed nursing homes to advance toward looser restrictions represented by color — red with the tightest restrictions and green with greater openness for activities like communal dining, group activities and visitation.
The designation depended on the facilities themselves being free of confirmed coronavirus cases as well as “no substantial community spread.”
So, for example, a nursing home that had been relatively calm as yellow or green might have to roll back to “Phase Blue” if residents tested positive or “if it is determined that there is substantial community spread as defined by the Bureau for Public Health.”‘
The complication is, it’s not clear if the Bureau for Public Health ever stated what constitutes “substantial community spread.”
The state health officer, Cathy Slemp, was forced to resign on June 24. That was a week after the nursing home 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.
Speaking today on MetroNews “Talkline,” Amjad said the re-entry plan for nursing homes is being revisited.
“In some counties they had sort of self-implemented that where if they had a lot of viruses in the nursing home, they had stopped visitation already,” Amjad said.
“Most of them had already implemented it on their own, and we are revisiting that as we speak to see if we need to implement throughout.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) August 11, 2020
The Department of Health and Human Resources this month published a “revised reopening plan” for nursing homes that provides greater definition for strategies like quarantine or isolation and guidance for residents who need to leave facilities for ongoing medical treatment like dialysis or chemotherapy.
There is now a section on “community status,” directing facilities to follow guidance from the Bureau of Public Health “once this guidance is released.”
The section has a hyperlink directing people to where the guidance will eventually be displayed at DHHR’s coronavirus response landing page.
DHHR spokeswoman Alison Adler confirmed today that the guidance on what degree of community spread would affect nursing home policies is still to come.
“Yes, that is still being defined and developed,” Adler responded in an email to MetroNews.
The West Virginia Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities, agreed that guidance would be helpful.
“As several counties around the state are experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases, approaches may need to be adjusted to combat the threat,” stated Marty Wright, chief executive officer of the organization.
“Our facilities continue to work closely with state agencies as well as local health departments to discuss and assess community spread and the need to implement additional restrictions on visitation.”
About 30 West Virginia nursing homes are experiencing outbreaks right now, state officials said Monday, 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.
State officials have said, generally, that someone carried the virus into the nursing home following a trip to Myrtle Beach.
When coronavirus starts spreading in a community, it can get into a nursing home as staff goes back and forth from work to their homes or when family members come to visit.
“You hear us talking about community spread, so that’s the biggest concern throughout the state,” Amjad said. “Our nursing home population, they pretty much stay in the nursing home. It’s the population going in and out of the nursing concern that’s our biggest concern.”
Delegate Jeffrey Pack, leader of the House Health and Human Resources Committee, said nursing homes would benefit from better clarity on when community spread presents a danger.
“The guidance, to the extent available, seems murky,” said Pack, R-Raleigh.
“My suspicion is that nursing homes may be relying on local health departments for guidance. To the extent that’s true, I wonder how much consistency exists from county to county on that guidance.”
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, a longtime member of the House health committee, agreed.
She wondered who is left with responsibility to decide how much community spread of virus should prompt tight visitation restrictions for nursing homes. That decision would affect the ability of families to see their loved ones.
“Is it state DHHR that decides? Is it the local health department? Is it the nursing home?” Fleischauer asked.
“Families have choices. Where can they find out the color rating of a particular nursing home? Are the decisions different in every county? That’s the way it appears.”
Fleischauer noted how long it has been since DHHR said it would define “substantial community spread.”
“These are hard decisions. I don’t envy those who must make them,” Fleischauer said.
“But it’s been nearly two months since DHHR said they would clarify this. One has to wonder about the timing, whether finalizing the definition of concepts like ‘hotspot’ and ‘substantial community spread’ is something that got lost in the shuffle when our state health officer was dismissed right in the middle of a global pandemic.”
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Big 12 Conference could be the swing vote with the 2020 college football season hanging in the balance. Multiple published reports indicated late Tuesday evening that the Big 12 is, for now, proceeding with plans to go forward with the 2020 season.
Sources telling SoonerScoop’s @CareyAMurdock and @Eddie_Rado Big 12 presidents will allow conference to move forward toward a season and a revised Big 12 schedule will be released after approval from AD’s during tonight’s meetings.
— SoonerScoop.com (@SoonerScoop) August 12, 2020
Announcements came within about an hour of each other on Tuesday afternoon that both the Big Ten Conference and the Pac-12 Conference were cancelling all fall sports for the 2020-2021 academic year.
Big Ten Statement on 2020-21 Fall Seasonhttps://t.co/BCiRSzeAPL
— Big Ten Conference (@bigten) August 11, 2020
Update on the 2020-21 Pac-12 season below.https://t.co/G6VxDO2VM2
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) August 11, 2020
Big 12 officials were meeting Tuesday evening to go over information from medical experts. It is not yet known whether the league plans to make a final decision on the 2020 season during the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference gave indications that they plan to proceed with the 2020 football season.
Statement from the ACC: pic.twitter.com/9lBY5h8jNy
— The ACC (@theACC) August 11, 2020
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) August 11, 2020
Four of the ten FBS football conferences will not compete this fall, possibly moving forward with plans for a spring season. On Saturday, the Mid-American Conference became the first FBS league to scrap plans for all fall sports. The Mountain West Conference made a similar announcement on Monday.
At the ‘Group of 5’ level, the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference are planning to play full football schedules this fall.
West Virginia remains scheduled to host Eastern Kentucky in their season opener and lone non-conference game on September 12. But it is likely that FCS football will not be played this fall due to multiple conferences announcing they will not compete.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Mountaineers entered their second day of split-squad preseason training camp on Tuesday. On-field workouts will continue Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
“Our secondary did a lot better job in our match coverage,” Brown said. “Our communication on the back end with both groups was much improved, even more improved than our OTA’s and definitely (Monday). And I though our stamina was much better up front defensively.
“Offensively, in the morning group we threw and caught the ball better than we did (Monday). And then in the afternoon group, we overcame some adversity offensively. We didn’t play very well but we finished.”
Installation will occur in three-day segments with a ‘low-tempo walk-through’ set for Thursday.
The team practiced in helmets once again and Brown says he will crunch some data before putting the team in full pads.
“I have a couple experiments I have been doing since we have been in shorts. I am getting the data from the GPS units and from watching the video. I will make a decision on that (Wednesday).”
Coaches are essentially in double-session practices since the team is broken into two completely separate units. And the coaches had to achieve their own level of preseason conditioning to keep up.
“It is a lot. But I think it is the best situation. We kind of conditioned ourselves in OTA’s, because that is the way we handled OTA’s as well.
“I knew in May this is what we were going to have to do. I gave them fair warning.”
(Photos courtesy of Austin Gaines & Caleb Saunders/WVU Football)
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Industries across the county have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic this summer, including restaurants.
Many dining services in West Virginia have had to adjust procedures, staff, menus, and more to stay afloat. Deno Stanley, the president of the Food Service Division of the West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association said it’s been a rough five months for West Virginians since the pandemic hit in March.
“The entertainment industry, the restaurant industry, the hospitality industry, we have all suffered greatly to the tune of 60 and 70 percent of a decline in sales,” he said.
Stanley is also the owner of Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille in Charleston. Restaurants in the capital city and across the state were allowed to begin operating with indoor capacity at 50-percent on May 21 after a takeout, delivery only mandate sent out by Gov. Jim Justice at the beginning of the pandemic.
He said even though the summer months are typically the slowest time for his restaurant, adjusting to the changes was not any easier.
“At first we could only have tables of six, then it opened up to no limitations and then we went back to six where we currently are,” Stanley said. “In the very beginning when we were allowed to open up, you couldn’t even serve at the bar.”
Rocco Muriale, the owner of Muriale’s Italian Kitchen in Fairmont, agreed with Stanley in it has been a summer full of challenges but they have survived.
“There have been a lot of adjustments, a lot of new protocols put into place. Also directing most of our energy to the curb service and now with the curb service and inside dining service open, it is working out well,” Muriale said.
“Once we got the protocols down form the local health department, state health department and the national health officials, we put our protocols into place along with a lot of training and transparency among ourselves, staff and our guests.”
Muriale said the restaurant has worked hard to make the customers feel safe with serving curbside and takeout orders, along with outside seating at the restaurant on their deck and picnic tables along the Tygart River.
Stanley said the outdoor dining options given by the City of Charleston, delivery services such as Door Dash, Uber Eats and Grub Hub, and the PPP loans have kept his restaurant alive.
He added the delivery services have nearly doubled from the numbers before the pandemic. He believes it may stay like that for a long time as a result of COVID-19.
“We had been strategizing to move into that direction slowly anyway but we didn’t have to be forced into it. It has changed the restaurant industry and the dining industry, I believe forever,” Stanley said.
Muriale believes the financial effects of the pandemic are far from over.
“All businesses across the country and throughout the world have had a financial hit due to this. I think it will continue even after we come out of this,” he said.
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Another West Virginia teachers’ union has endorsed Democrat Ben Salango instead of incumbent Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican who earned union backing when he first ran as a Democrat.
The West Virginia Education Association joins the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia in endorsing Salango. The WVEA’s political action committee voted over the weekend and made its announcement this afternoon.
“Our members felt like with Salango’s discussion of the direction he has, his vision for public education and his desire to listen to educators regarding educational issues, that’s the direction our members chose to go in this election,” said WVEA President Dale Lee.
WVEA, like AFT-WV, endorsed Justice when he was the Democratic candidate in 2016, saying “Jim Justice stood out from the others.”
Lee said teachers have often worked well with Justice, but said the governor wound up being a let-down on long-term efforts to shore up the Public Employees Insurance Agency or on standing with teachers union members against charter school policies.
“I’m the first to acknowledge that Governor Justice at times has been very supportive of education employees, and we’ve commended him on increasing salaries, eliminating A to F grading of schools and reducing standardized testing,” Lee said.
“But there were a number of things he stated in the interviews in 2016 that would be done that have not come to fruition.”
Teachers have gone on two statewide strikes during Justice’s time in office.
The first was largely about shoring up insurance programs that were resulting in more and more out-of-pocket costs for teachers. It was also prompted by Justice’s initial offering of a 1 percent raise that year, when teachers viewed it as not enough compared to the state’s stable financial position.
The second came when lawmakers rolled another promised pay raise and more funding for schools into an omnibus education bill that also allowed for charter schools. Justice spoke out publicly against the charter schools provision but wound up signing the bill.
AFT-West Virginia gave similar reasons for its endorsement of Salango earlier this month.
Leaders of that union and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Union stood with Salango, a Kanawha County commissioner, last week to push steps for a safer reopening of schools during the coronavirus pandemic.
The support for Salango by those unions drew sharp comments from Justice during a later news briefing.
“I would put my record as far as helping our teachers and our service personnel up against my past predecessors and it would be overwhelming as far as helping them,” Justice said Friday.
The governor chalked up the lost AFT endorsement to his party switch.
“I’ve done everything under the sun to try to help, and we go right back to the partisan politics,” Justice said.
WVEA endorsed some Republicans, Lee noted. Like AFT-WV, the union endorsed Republicans Amy Nichole Grady and David “Bugs” Stover, who each knocked off incumbents in primary races for the state Senate.
WVEA also endorsed Republicans in House races such as Matthew Rohrback, Mark Dean, Tony Paynter, Roy Cooper and Trenton Barnhart.
“What we’re looking for is people who want to move public education forward in West Virginia, regardless of political party.”
Of Justice, Lee said, “on some issues his positions have changed.”
As the target date approaches to reopen classrooms, Lee hopes the teachers organizations can still work effectively with the Justice administration.
“I would hope that he still sees us as a force for public education and his desire to do what’s best for the education employees and the students of West Virginia,” Lee said.
“I feel strongly that we all want the same thing, and that’s a safe school environment for our educators and our students and the best possible education for our students, whether that be in person or remotely.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Families in Kanawha County are split on what to do when sending their children back to school this fall, according to Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Tom Williams.
Tuesday was the deadline for parents in the county to register a child into one of two plans put together by the state’s largest school district.
Parents and guardians had to log onto the Kanawha County Schools website and select an in-person model that begins with a staggered return to the classroom or an online model that will either be a Kanawha County Schools’ Schoology option or West Virginia Department of Education virtual option.
“There are more in-person students right now but there is just a little less than half saying e-learning or virtual,” Williams told MetroNews on Tuesday.
Williams said there is a great debate amongst parents in the school system as the first day of class, September 8, is quickly approaching.
Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin, who has a child in the school system, said as a parent it’s a tough decision.
“As a parent, am I concerned? Yeah, I am concerned not only about my college kid but I am also concerned about my high school kid and making sure we are doing the right things,” she said.
The in-person plan for the school system consists of a staggered return September 8-11, blended learning model from September 14-25 and the in-person 5-day option beginning September 28.
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.
Williams said the staggered return allows the school system to gather data on safety procedures ahead of the 5-day, in-person return. He said it also allows the school to teach students about procedures such as bathroom breaks, lunch seating and walking the halls.
The blended learning model 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.
Williams said the parents selecting the all-online option should understand there are two choices within that one, virtual or e-learning.
“The difference between virtual will be a teacher outside of Kanawha County. E-learning will be a teacher inside Kanawha County that the child would have probably had anyway,” Williams said.
So what’s next for the school system after the responses are counted? Williams said planning for every school leader in the county.
“Once we get out numbers, principals are going to have to redo their schedules in the school and they are going to have to determine how many teachers they need for in-person and how many teachers they need to e-learning so that we can have everything ready for September 8,” he said.
“They will be getting procedures down, working on schedules for e-learning, it will be a busy next three weeks.”
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A West Virginia delegate who works in hospitals has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, publicly posted on her Facebook page this week that she developed a strange cough and got a rapid test because she was supposed to go to work.
“I have the Corona virus,” she wrote on social media.
“So far so good but I appreciate prayers and positive vibes my way. I have been so careful. Now everyone who knows me knows someone who has the virus. Please stay safe and be careful.”
Staggers is an emergency room physician at Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital, which is one reason she had particular concern. The hospital has been affected by community spread in the area.
Besides her emergency room job, Staggers is also medical director of several emergency medical services and emergency operations centers in Fayette, Wyoming, Raleigh and Boone counties.
Today Staggers wrote that her symptoms are more acute, a few days in.
“I am sleeping a lot, still weird cough, aching bad but usual non-narcotic pain meds relieve enough,” Staggers wrote.
“Cough has not moved from my upper bronchus, some chills and sweats.”
Staggers was among members of the House Health and Human Resources Committee who gathered last month for an informational meeting about the state’s coronavirus response.
There is no reason to believe Staggers developed coronavirus from attending the July 13 meeting, but a member of the House Clerk’s staff who attended did test positive shortly after that.
Staggers, who wore a mask to the meeting, spoke up to describe other precautions too, urging those who attended to change their clothes afterwards.
Staggers was first elected to the Legislature in 2006 and served until 2014. She was elected to the House again in 2018. She is the oldest daughter of former U.S. Representative Harley Staggers, who served in Congress from 1948 to 1981.
Today, leaders of the House of Delegates expressed desire for Staggers to recover quickly.
“Obviously we are very concerned about the health of Delegate Staggers given what appears to be her positive test for COVID-19,” stated Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison.
“While her colleagues and I will be praying for her recovery, this simply underscores the danger that health care professionals and first responders confront every day with this pandemic. We must remain vigilant about keeping West V”irginians safe from this disease.”
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, also wished Staggers well.
“Delegate Staggers has been a dedicated worker on the frontlines of this pandemic,” Hanshaw stated, and we’ll be praying for a complete and speedy recovery.”
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