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West Virginia opens vaccine eligibility to all 16 and older

CHARLESTON — West Virginia will immediately open coronavirus vaccine eligibility to all residents aged 16 and older, Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday.

The state becomes one of the few in the nation to lift virtually all eligibility requirements way ahead of President Joe Biden’s goal of allowing all adults to get shots starting on May 1.

Justice said the state will continue prioritizing doses for residents 65 and over.

“Now is our time. Let’s go West Virginia,” he said. “Let’s get everybody in this state vaccinated.”

There are about 1.43 million people 18 and older in the state, according to census data.

State data showed that about 25% of the total population was partially vaccinated, and 15% were fully inoculated against the disease that has killed 2,612 people so far in West Virginia.

The state previously was allowing shots for all residents 50 and over, essential workers of any age and individuals 16 and over who had underlying medical conditions. Justice last week had said eligibility expansion may not come for weeks, but on Monday suddenly announced the state would open the floodgates.

Justice previously said it would meet Biden’s goal but that the state needed an increase in doses from the federal government. Last week, the state received about 44,200 first doses, according to state data, a 9% increase from the previous week’s shipment.

Officials didn’t announce how many doses they expect to receive this week.

Justice said last week the state would establish three new clinics that would allow anyone 65 and older to receive a vaccine, even if they show up to the site while on a waiting list.

Bill Crouch, cabinet secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, said Monday that the state was directly reaching out to finalize appointments for Black senior citizens and the state’s oldest residents who have signed up for shots. Residents can sign up online at vaccinate.wv.gov or call 1-833-734-0965. Some pharmacies, such as Walgreens, are also independently booking appointments.

Officials with the Cabell-Huntington Health Department said Monday they have contacted or attempted to contact everyone on its 65 and older waitlist for the COVID-19 vaccine, but understand some calls or appointments may have been missed in recent weeks.

In addition to usual appointments, residents of Huntington or Cabell County who are 65 or older may walk in without an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine at the COVID-19 Vaccine Center, the former Sears at the Huntington Mall, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, March 26, or until the vaccine supply runs out. A walk-in option is also available for those 65 and older at St. Mary’s Education Center drive-thru at 2853 5th Ave. in Huntington from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Thursday, March 25 and Friday, March 26, or until the daily vaccine supply runs out.

Justice also announced that, barring a spike in cases, he will lift an executive order barring fairs and festivals around the state, effective May 1.

COVID-19 active cases, daily positivity rates, and hospitalizations have been ticking up somewhat statewide since Justice issued an executive order March 5 lifting a variety of COVID-19 restrictions, including allowing bars and restaurant indoor dining to resume at 100% of capacity.

Current daily positivity is up to 5.21%, with 5,600 active cases, up more than 400 from a week ago.

Also Monday, the state Department of Health and Human Resources confirmed six new COVID-19-related deaths, including an 86-year-old man from Cabell County, and 68-year-old and 71-year-old men from Putnam County.

Puppy love on display

HUNTINGTON — March 23 may be known as National Puppy Day, but dog aficionados in the Tri-State area are fond of showing off, and showing their love for, their pups any day of the year.

According to National Day Calendar, National Puppy Day, first observed in 2006, “celebrates the unconditional love and affection puppies bring to our lives.”

To mark the special day, National Day Calendar suggests using the hashtag #NationalPuppyDay to post photos of your puppy on social media, go to the dog park and let your puppy play, pick up a special treat for your pup, or go for a walk with them. Huntington, Barboursville and the surrounding areas offer no shortage of green space and trails to get moving on, whether by two legs or four.

It also reminds prospective pet parents that shelters are great places to check first when seeking an animal companion of any age.

House sends 'zombie property' bill to governor

CHARLESTON — A bill dealing with dilapidated “zombie properties” is awaiting the signature of Gov. Jim Justice.

The West Virginia House of Delegates passed Senate Bill 42 last week. The bill allows municipalities and counties to begin court proceedings to force foreclosure to either begin or continue along if the property in question is deemed “unsafe, unsanitary, dangerous or detrimental to the public safety or welfare.”

“Cities and counties now have another tool at their disposal to petition the sale of properties deemed unsafe, dangerous or detrimental to the public safety to encourage additional development,” said Del. Ben Queen, R-Harrison, chairman of the Small Business and Economic Development Committee, in a release. “Rather than watch these properties sit empty in our communities, this will now allow more economic development at the local level.”

A property can be deemed unsafe by a municipality’s code enforcement, or by proving no person lives legally in the building, the exterior maintenance and major systems of the building and surrounding property are in violation of local health/building codes, or if the mortgagor certifies they plan to abandon or vacate the property.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, lead sponsor of the bill, said it fills a hole in the toolbox for dealing with dilapidated housing and will allow places like Huntington to improve their neighborhoods by providing more green space and increased property values.

The governor has five days upon receipt of the bill to either sign it into law, veto it or permit it to go to law without his signature.

Two other bills dealing with dilapidated housing are awaiting consideration by the House.

Senate Bill 368 authorizes the state Department of Environmental Protection to establish the Reclamation of Abandoned and Dilapidated Properties Program. Using a fund established in the bill, the DEP program would assist counties and municipalities to implement redevelopment plans that will, at a minimum, establish prioritized inventories of structures eligible to participate in the program, offer reuse options for high-priority sites and recommend actions county commissions or municipalities may take to remediate abandoned and dilapidated structures in their communities. The bill establishes a special revenue account for the program.

SB 311 permits urban renewal authorities to purchase or otherwise acquire land, like land reuse agencies, also known as land banks.

Neither bill has been picked up by their respective committees.