CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice conceded Wednesday that his plan to offer $100 U.S. savings bonds as incentives for 16- to 35-year-olds to get COVID-19 vaccinations hasn’t been fully vetted, and said West Virginia might end up having to offer $100 checks instead.
“We don’t have all the details,” the governor said at the state COVID-19 briefing Wednesday. “In most good ideas and plans, you don’t sit around for 50,000 days and incubate it until it’s perfect.”
Justice made national news Monday with his announcement of the savings bond incentive to encourage younger West Virginians to overcome vaccine hesitancy and get their shots.
As recently as Wednesday’s briefing, Justice seemed to be under the impression that savings bonds are still paper certificates, telling the target audience, “I’m going to give you something you can take a picture of and keep.” According to information on the U.S. Treasury’s TreasuryDirect website, U.S. savings bonds went all electronic in 2012, requiring bond recipients to set up accounts on that website.
“The details of how to do that with Treasury, we’re working through that, and there’s big-time details, and it’s difficult,” Justice said of the savings bond initiative.
“At the end of the rainbow, we may have to say, nope, we just can’t do that. We’re just going to send you a $100 check,” he added.
That’s opposed to $100 savings bonds, which mature to face value after 20 years but can be cashed out after one year for a little over $50.
Justice also conceded that many in the targeted age group might be unfamiliar with savings bonds, but said their parents and grandparents understand their significance.
“It will give our kids something that, in my opinion, we need to infuse in all of us, and that’s an extra dose of patriotism,” he said.
Plunging statewide vaccination rates in April have led the governor to spend portions of his thrice-weekly briefings pleading with the vaccine hesitant to get their shots. State vaccination rates have fallen from averaging more than 17,000 doses a day in late March to an average of fewer than 2,000 doses a day in the past week, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVID-19 dashboard.
Initially a national leader in vaccination rates, West Virginia, as of Wednesday, ranked 41st among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker.
Also Wednesday, Justice clarified that incentives will be paid retroactively to 16- to 35-year-olds who have been vaccinated prior to Monday’s announcement.
He stressed that the cost of issuing savings bonds or checks, even if he achieves his goal of getting 210,000 West Virginians in the target age group to participate, would still be a fraction of the cost of what the state is paying for ongoing COVID-19 testing.
The costs of the vaccination incentives will be paid out of unexpended federal CARES Act funds, Justice said. According to the State Auditor’s Office, as of April 20, more than $615 million of the $1.27 billion of CARES Act money directed to the state remains unspent.
The governor also said Wednesday the state will be gearing up marketing efforts, including public service ads, to encourage vaccine hesitant West Virginians to get their shots.
“We’re dedicating the funds to be able to do that. This is not a one-pronged or one-legged approach,” Justice said, without providing further details about the marketing campaign.
Statewide, 453 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Wednesday, for a total of 152,301, and 11 new deaths, for a total of 2,673.
The deaths included an 83-year-old man from Putnam County.
Total cases per county are: Barbour (1,385), Berkeley (11,978), Boone (1,937), Braxton (887), Brooke (2,152), Cabell (8,557), Calhoun (281), Clay (469), Doddridge (563), Fayette (3,352), Gilmer (750), Grant (1,251), Greenbrier (2,716), Hampshire (1,751), Hancock (2,740), Hardy (1,486), Harrison (5,543), Jackson (1,974), Jefferson (4,477), Kanawha (14,493), Lewis (1,149), Lincoln (1,432), Logan (3,005), Marion (4,279), Marshall (3,336), Mason (1,968), McDowell (1,531), Mercer (4,657), Mineral (2,809), Mingo (2,473), Monongalia (9,061), Monroe (1,099), Morgan (1,114), Nicholas (1,561), Ohio (4,112), Pendleton (696), Pleasants (853), Pocahontas (658), Preston (2,837), Putnam (4,945), Raleigh (6,477), Randolph (2,517), Ritchie (675), Roane (594), Summers (782), Taylor (1,207), Tucker (524), Tyler (679), Upshur (1,839), Wayne (2,967), Webster (466), Wetzel (1,261), Wirt (388), Wood (7,653) and Wyoming (1,955).
Cabell County reported 232 active cases Wednesday, while Wayne County reported 36.
In Kentucky, the expanding COVID-19 vaccination campaign is aimed at making it increasingly convenient for people to get the shots needed to defeat the coronavirus, Gov. Andy Beshear said.
The governor visited a newly opened community vaccination center in Henderson. The state opened the western Kentucky site in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“This week, I’ve visited a few of our state’s most unique vaccination sites — from a mobile clinic run out of an emergency management van that can meet people where they are, to a pop-up clinic at a professional soccer game,” Beshear said. “No matter where you are, there’s a convenient, and sometimes even fun, place where you can get your shot of hope, protect yourself and save lives.”
In another inoculation pitch, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said the smaller vaccination sites available statewide will help reach the governor’s goal of 2.5 million Kentuckians receiving at least their first COVID-19 shot. Once that threshold is reached, Beshear has pledged to lift capacity and physical distancing restrictions for nearly all businesses, venues and events catering to 1,000 or fewer patrons.
“The more efficient we can make it, the more effective this whole process is going to be,” Coleman said during her own visit to a vaccination site Wednesday.
Anyone 16 or older is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Kentucky. More than 1.7 million Kentuckians have received at least their first dose, Beshear said.
The Democratic governor has touted a grassroots strategy of offering vaccinations where people shop for groceries and pick up prescriptions to make it more convenient to get the vaccine.
Meanwhile, FEMA is sending four mobile vaccination clinic vans to Kentucky, and each can administer 125 doses per day, Beshear said. Statewide, FEMA will have the capacity to administer 1,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Kentuckians per day through the mobile clinics and the community vaccination sites opening in Henderson and in Laurel County, he said.
“Our gains against this virus have been real and sustained, but here’s the tough news: This crisis is not over,” Beshear said. “Experts say we’re seeing the influence of more contagious COVID strains and more young people becoming infected.”
Meanwhile, the state reported 747 new coronavirus cases and nine more virus-related deaths Wednesday. The state’s virus-related death toll has reached at least 6,485 since the pandemic began.
The statewide rate of positive cases was 3.11%. More than 430 virus patients are hospitalized in Kentucky, including 119 in intensive care units.
In Ohio, more than 1,700 new cases were reported, for a total of 1,068,985, with 19,186 deaths.