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West Virginia to target young people for vaccinations

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s coronavirus vaccination campaign will turn to young people to stem transmission rates after giving shots to most senior citizens.

The new strategy to focus on shots for residents aged 16 to 29 comes after officials said they are seeing an increase in doses.

“When you have the resources available, you open up multiple fronts against the enemy to deplete their capability,” James Hoyer, a retired major general leading the state’s coronavirus task force, said Wednesday. “In this case the virus is the enemy.”

Republican Gov. Jim Justice said more than 70% of residents aged 65 and over are at least partially vaccinated, but he set a new goal of covering 85% of that population. But he said the state’s focus could now begin shifting to high school and college students and other young adults.

“We’re seeing significant transmission occurring with our younger people,” Justice said.

Justice opened up vaccinations to all West Virginians aged 16 and over Monday.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, said younger and older people are turning up sicker at hospitals, which he attributed to variants of the coronavirus circulating. The number of coronavirus patients has increased 40% in under two weeks to 212 people.

The state has approximately 24 confirmed cases of the UK coronavirus variant, according to state health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad. It is one of the variants spreading in the United States that researchers believe may spread more easily.

“We’ve absolutely got a transmission issue that we need to jump back on and cut this thing off at its knees,” Justice said.

Hoyer said the state expects an increase in its federal delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is the only one that currently is allowed for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s office said the state will receive an increase of 11,700 first and second Pfizer doses and 8,800 additional Johnson & Johnson doses.

Justice also announced the state will devote 10,000 doses to work directly with manufacturing companies and small businesses to vaccinate employees on site. He said the state has already worked with Toyota and Procter & Gamble.

Three new regional vaccine clinics are also opening in Kanawha, Berkeley and Monongalia counties for residents 65 and over, who can show up without an appointment to receive a shot.

About 25% of the state’s 1.78 million population is currently partially vaccinated. Over 15% are fully inoculated against the disease that has killed 2,619 people in West Virginia. Six new deaths were reported Wednesday.

Residents can pre-register for a vaccine at vaccinate.wv.gov or call 833-734-0965. Some pharmacies, such as Walgreens, are also independently booking appointments.

Cleanup, repairs continue at museum’s nature trails

HUNTINGTON — Work is underway to clean up the nature trails at the Huntington Museum of Art.

Back-to-back ice storms last month brought down trees along the trails, requiring professional crews to clear the fallen trees, branches and other debris. The trails remain closed as the work continues.

The museum’s nature trails are part of a marked, maintained trail system that stretches approximately 1 mile in length and features a variety of inclines, from nearly flat to steep.

Although the nature trails are closed, the museum is open. Located at 2033 McCoy Road in Huntington, the museum is open for members from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Friday. It is open for general admission 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays and from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Admission to the museum is free on Tuesdays.

W.Va. Senate passes bill to rein in voting options

CHARLESTON — Legislation that could make it more difficult for West Virginians to participate in future elections, including by revoking a 2016 automatic voter registration law, passed the Senate without debate Wednesday on a 29-5 vote.

Championed by then-Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the law to automatically register voters at Division of Motor Vehicles offices when they obtain driver’s licenses has been on the books for nearly five years but has yet to be implemented.

Under Senate Bill 565, people obtaining or transferring driver’s licenses could opt to register to vote at the DMV, but the process would not be automatic. That is the policy currently in effect.

The bill also pushes up deadlines for early in-person voting and for submitting applications for absentee voting by mail.

Under the bill, the window for early in-person voting — currently 13 days to three days before Election Day — would shift to 17 days to seven days before Election Day. The move would eliminate one available Saturday from each election cycle. State law prohibits voting on Sundays.

It also would move the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot from six days before Election Day to 11 days.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said Secretary of State Mac Warner had requested the change based on warnings from the U.S. Postal Service of slower delivery times for U.S. mail.

As the Senate was taking up the bill, Warner was in Washington, D.C., testifying before the U.S. Senate Rules Committee in opposition to the federal For The People Act of 2021.

“We want to keep a tight rein. I want to get my guidance from the state Legislature, and not go toward automatic voter registration, mail-in ballots, same-day registration and the other provisions in this bill,” Warner said.

Warner, who participated in a “Stop the Steal” rally in Charleston following the November 2020 election, told senators Wednesday that West Virginia has a tradition of election corruption, stating, “In West Virginia, the 1960 presidential election was bought by John F. Kennedy, and they bragged about that for years.”

Passage of the For The People Act would nullify voter suppression legislation currently under consideration in 43 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

According to the center, through Feb. 19, 253 bills had been introduced in state legislatures to restrict voting. The bill voted on Wednesday by the West Virginia Senate is not included on that list, having been introduced March 5.

SB 565 also would allow “idle” voters to be purged from voter registration rolls after failing to vote in any election in the preceding two years. Current law permits voters to be purged after failing to vote in any election in the preceding four years.

The bill also would require disclosure for prerecorded electioneering telephone calls, commonly known as “robocalls,” requiring a disclaimer that it is a “paid political call” and disclosing the entity paying for the call.

“Any entity that’s going to make robocalls to voters essentially has to tell them who they are and that this is a political call,” Trump said Wednesday.

Likewise, similar disclosures would be required for telephone “push polls,” which are electioneering communications that attempt to generate support or opposition for candidates under the guise of opinion polling. A typical push-poll question would be, “Would you be more or less likely to vote for candidate X if you knew he …” followed by a negative statement about the candidate.

Sens. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier; Bob Beach, D-Monongalia; Mike Caputo, D-Marion; Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha; and Mike Romano, D-Harrison, voted against the bill. It now goes to the House of Delegates.