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Coronavirus
With COVID-19 numbers climbing, Justice closes bars, rolls back reopenings

CHARLESTON — With active COVID-19 cases increasing statewide and spiking in Monongalia County, Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday that he is pulling back on some parts of his plan to reopen the state.

Statewide, that includes restricting fairs, festivals, outdoor concerts and other gatherings to no more than 25 people, along with ordering a 10-day closure of bars in Monongalia County.

“You talk about a hot spot, this is a hot spot,” Justice said of Monongalia County, home of Morgantown and West Virginia University, where there are 340 active COVID-19 cases — by far the highest in the state.

Statewide, the number of new COVID-19 cases increased by 377 over the weekend, as transmission and infection rates have shot up in July.

“It’s no fun to close things, and make mandatory masks, and somewhat divide us,” Justice said of rolling back some aspects of his “West Virginia Strong — The Comeback” reopening plan. Last Monday, Justice issued an executive order requiring the wearing of face coverings in indoor public spaces as the state experiences an upturn in new COVID-19 cases.

Justice again Monday implored West Virginians to comply with mask wearing and social distancing to avoid the fate of states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona that have seen massive spikes in COVID-19 cases in recent days.

“This is not playtime stuff. This is not a time to be macho, to stand up and say, ‘I don’t have to do this,’” he said.

Justice issued an executive order closing bars in Monongalia County for 10 days beginning at midnight Tuesday. He said that restaurants that serve alcohol with meals may remain open.

In making the announcement, Justice displayed a chart from the Texas Medical Association ranking risk factors for COVID-19 exposure on a scale from 1 (low risk) to 9 (very high risk), with going to a bar being the highest level 9 risk factor.

Justice also pulled back previous orders allowing fairs, festivals and outdoor concerts to resume, limiting those and other gatherings to a maximum of 25 people.

Organizers of multiple fairs, festivals and outdoor events statewide have previously announced cancellations of those events through the fall.

Justice said the 25-person limit will not apply to church services and other religious services. However, he chided Covenant Church in Fairmont, which hosted services by a national televangelist over the weekend, with photographs on social media showing a crowded chapel with no one wearing masks or social distancing.

“There’s no one that I can see anywhere in the congregation that’s got a mask on,” Justice said. “There’s no (empty) pews in between. We’re just asking for it.”

Also Wednesday, Justice:

  • Said he is not aware of any push-back regarding his mandatory face covering order, saying he estimates that 90% of West Virginians approve of the mandate.
  • Reiterated that he will not be pressured by President Donald Trump to reopen public schools. Justice has already pushed back the tentative first day of school to Sept. 8, despite Trump’s calls for schools to reopen as scheduled this fall.

“I get accused of making these updates on COVID have political ramifications because I’ve said positive things about our president, and I do think he’s done a great job,” Justice said, adding, “I will not be pressured by our president or anyone with regard to putting our kids back in school.”

Justice said delaying the start of school to Sept. 8 was a matter of buying more time to implement COVID-19 measures, but said, “There’s no way we could go back to school today.”

  • Reminded unemployed West Virginians that they will be eligible for a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits when their current benefits expire.

Statewide, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported 211,006 total confirmatory laboratory results received for COVID-19, with 4,313 total cases as of 6 p.m. Monday.

The state recorded one new death, an 85-year old woman from Ohio County, for a total of 97 deaths.

Cases per county (case confirmed by lab test/probable case): Barbour (20/0), Berkeley (518/19), Boone (34/0), Braxton (5/0), Brooke (27/1), Cabell (192/7), Calhoun (4/0), Clay (12/0), Fayette (84/0), Gilmer (13/0), Grant (21/1), Greenbrier (71/0), Hampshire (42/0), Hancock (41/3), Hardy (46/1), Harrison (122/0), Jackson (148/0), Jefferson (253/5), Kanawha (421/12), Lewis (21/1), Lincoln (9/0), Logan (39/0), Marion (106/3), Marshall (65/1), Mason (25/0), McDowell (8/0), Mercer (63/0), Mineral (66/2), Mingo (29/2), Monongalia (554/14), Monroe (14/1), Morgan (19/1), Nicholas (19/1), Ohio (147/0), Pendleton (15/1), Pleasants (4/1), Pocahontas (37/1), Preston (81/21), Putnam (90/1), Raleigh (80/3), Randolph (188/2), Ritchie (2/0), Roane (12/0), Summers (2/0), Taylor (22/1), Tucker (6/0), Tyler (10/0), Upshur (31/2), Wayne (127/1), Webster (1/0), Wetzel (37/0), Wirt (6/0), Wood (179/9), Wyoming (7/0).

In Ohio, there are 66,853 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday evening, with 3,064 deaths related to the virus.

Gov. Andy Beshear noted 272 newly reported cases of COVID-19 in Kentucky on Monday.

“We continue to see a rise in cases for children under five. Today we have 11, and the youngest is just four months old. This impacts our children, too,” Beshear said.

Kentucky had four new deaths Monday, raising its total to 629.

As of Monday, there have been at least 480,372 coronavirus tests performed in Kentucky, and at least 5,344 residents have recovered from the virus.


News
Marshall University works on projects to curb COVID-19 spread

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University maintenance employees have been working on projects to help implement the university’s return-to-campus plan as it prepares to resume face-to-face classes in August during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a university spokesperson, 286 classrooms will have at least one barrier between the professor and students. Barriers are being built by the university’s carpenters at the Physical Plant. Some classrooms will have two barriers.

Barriers are also being built for offices and personal spaces where social distancing is not possible. Classrooms will only be used at 50% capacity, which will be achieved by zip-tying chairs together and only allowing one person to claim both chairs.

The custodial staff is working to disinfect “high touch” areas daily, and disinfectant wipe stations are being built and placed across campus to give students and faculty the ability to disinfect their personal spaces as needed.

As part of the return-to-school plan, when students and faculty return for class Aug. 24, they will be expected to wear masks in university buildings, during class and outside of personal workspaces. Physical distancing of at least 6 feet will also be required.

Upon arrival, international and residence hall students, student-athletes and non-residence hall students from “hot spots” will be tested for the virus and sentinel surveillance testing (testing people across a community, including those who are apparently well) of those and other students should be expected throughout the year.

To help promote social distancing, mask wearing, practicing good hygiene and other CDC recommendations, signage and elevator wraps will also be placed across campus with information about how to avoid contracting the virus.

Marshall is hosting two town hall meetings this week to answer questions and address concerns about the new policies and procedures that will be implemented. A parents’ town hall will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, with the students’ meeting taking place at 2 p.m. Thursday. Participants can register at https://www.marshall.edu/coronavirus/


Coronavirus
Mountain Health Network announces hospital layoffs amid COVID-19 losses

HUNTINGTON — Sixty-four positions at Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center are being eliminated in response to unforeseen losses sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Mountain Health Network, the cuts were necessary because both hospitals have endured the financial impact of reduced patient volumes.

Those affected include leadership and furloughed positions, the CHH adult sleep lab and the CHH laundry department, none of which provide direct patient care, Mountain Health officials said in a news release.

Since resuming elective surgeries and other services on May 4, the hospitals’ volumes peaked at about 90% of those seen before COVID-19, and officials said even federal relief funds were not enough to fully sustain the system.

“While hospitals regularly operate with high expenses and low reimbursement, the recent pandemic has placed additional pressure that forced necessary action,” Mike Mullins, president and CEO of MHN, said in the release. “The CARES Act relief funds have helped to offset the hospitals’ losses, but they are just a fraction of the losses.

“Additionally, the American Hospital Association estimates hospitals will lose another $120.5 billion through the end of 2020 due to reduced patient volumes. We do not anticipate any additional government relief at this time so the funds we received to date must be used to offset losses for the remainder of 2020, possibly longer.”

Mullins said those affected are being offered alternative positions in the system, and severance packages will be provided for those who choose not to accept one of those positions.

While the exact positions affected are unknown, officials with the SEIU District 1199 WV/KY/OH said in a release Monday that 10 unionized polysomnographer technicians will be eliminated.

In addition, the SEIU said the jobs of 13 laundry workers could be outsourced to another entity, which they believe is in violation of the hospital’s collective bargaining agreement with the union.

“This is a difficult time for a lot people. Slashing the jobs of sleep lab workers in a pandemic runs contrary to the needs of this area at this critical time,” Regional Director Joyce Gibson said in a release.

“Outsourcing the jobs of laundry workers, in violation of their Collective Bargaining agreement, we believe this is a gross contract violation and an unfair labor practice.”

The union filed labor charges with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday after the announcement.

Mountain Health Network officials declines to comment further.

Officials said workers are also upset because the hospital system will continue to move forward in acquiring the Huntington Internal Medicine Group (HIMG) amid the layoffs.

“We strongly believe that ultimately, the collective bargaining agreement will be upheld and these laundry workers will prevail,” Gibson said. “It is difficult to understand the rationale for cutting jobs while the hospital moves forward with a costly new acquisition at a time when the area needs these jobs most.”

Nurses and technical workers with the SEIU met during a press event last week to shed light on their concerns regarding patient care, wages and benefits amid the pandemic that they said are not being addressed at Cabell Huntington Hospital.