COVID-19 UPDATE: Gov. Justice commits $6M to support child care providers and families; announces plan for testing and monitoring college students

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CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice joined West Virginia health leaders and other officials today for his latest daily press briefing regarding the State’s COVID-19 response.
During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice announced that he has committed $6 million of CARES Act funding to ensure the continued support of child care providers and families through the end of the year.“I’m delighted that we solved the riddle on this,” Gov. Justice said. “West Virginia received a total of $23 million from another bucket of CARES Act money, specifically to provide support for our state’s essential workers and our child care network. But these funds were depleted and this program was set to end on September 30th.

“We’ve been working really, really hard to try to find a way, through the DHHR, that we could continue this on if the federal funding drops off, because we feel like this is really important,” Gov. Justice continued.

This new funding will aid essential workers across the state, providing support to 3,400 families each month through the end of December 2020.

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources have worked together on a proposal for how to count college students that have COVID-19 and are in isolation.Part of the plan involves making sure students are being properly tested and, if positive, monitored to ensure the safety of their communities, while also providing a pathway to improving case numbers in those same communities.

“We’ve got to come up with a way that we can better serve our people and count the people properly from the standpoint of West Virginia University, as well as throughout our state with our colleges and universities so our numbers aren’t so skewed in counties with large institutions,” Gov. Justice said.

“In a lot of ways, especially in Mon County, because they’ve been red for awhile now, a lot of people are losing some degree of hope,” Gov. Justice said. “That’s the worst possible thing that can happen to us.”

“State and national health experts tell us that the safest way to deal with positive test results on campuses is to keep those students on the campus to address their needs, to care for them, and isolate them within our community until we know that they can’t spread the virus any further,” said Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, Chancellor of both the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and West Virginia Community & Technical College System. “And so our colleges and universities have prepared to set up isolation housing for students who test positive.”

Dr. Tucker went on to announce that WVU is working together with the Monongalia County Health Department to establish a facility, with appropriate security and monitoring in place,  where COVID-positive students who live on-campus can be safely isolated.

Additionally, Dr. Tucker said that the WV HEPC is recommending that incentives be given to COVID-positive students who live off-campus, encouraging them to utilize this same facility.

“We’re not going to go around and make students go into one of these secure dorms,” Dr. Tucker said. “But, if an off-campus student feels comfortable moving into one of these on-campus facilities, we would like to be able to provide that opportunity for them.”

“West Virginia University has stepped up and has provided a secure and monitored location for their students,” said Monongalia County Health Officer Dr. Lee Smith in his remarks during Wednesday’s briefing.

Dr. Smith and other health experts participating in Wednesday’s briefing said that, under the proposed plan, all of the COVID-positive students utilizing these safe and secure facilities would be able to be counted as a single case for the purposes of the color-coded County Alert Map system.

“Our data shows that these cases that are congregated into this environment do not result in community spread and, therefore, we feel that these people should be considered as a single outbreak because they’re within a congregate setting,” Dr. Smith continued “I think it’s of note that it’s Morgantown that is seeing the positive cases, meaning that we’re not seeing positive COVID cases in the western part of our county and some of the more rural areas.”

Dr. Tucker added that the plan, which would also involve surveillance testing of samplings of students and staff members as well as providing mental health resources for any students in quarantine, could be implemented on college and university campuses across West Virginia.
Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the month of August dropped more than one full percentage point to 8.9 percent.August marked the fourth consecutive month of improving unemployment numbers in West Virginia.

During additional remarks Wednesday, WorkForce West Virginia Acting Director Scott Adkins reported that West Virginia has now dispersed more than $1.5 billion dollars in unemployment benefits since mid-March.

“This week we’re going to disperse $100 million more in unemployment benefits through the FEMA Lost Wages Assistance Program,” Adkins said. “As I mentioned last week, West Virginia has been approved for six weeks of payments and so, for folks who are eligible, you stand to gain an extra $400 in benefits.”

Click here for more information on different types of unemployment benefits

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice provided a look at West Virginia’s latest mid-week map update.The map is updated live on the DHHR’s COVID-19 Dashboard (Click “County Alert System” tab) throughout the week for informational purposes and to provide an indication of how each county is trending ahead of each Saturday at 5 p.m.; the time when each county is assigned its official color designation for the next week, which determines the level of scholastic, athletic, and extracurricular activities permitted in each county for that particular week.

As of Wednesday morning, Kanawha County was elevated to red status. This triggers an immediate suspension of all in-person instruction and all school-related activities.

Kanawha County joins Monongalia County as the only two red counties in the state.

Today’s map also shows that four counties are orange: Boone, Fayette, Mingo, and Putnam counties.

Six counties are in the new gold status level: Cabell, Calhoun, Lincoln, Logan, Ohio, and Pocahontas counties.

A total of 28 counties are yellow, while 15 counties are green.

Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice reported that the state had once again reached a record high in active COVID-19 cases with 3,236.Meanwhile, however, West Virginia’s statewide rate of COVID-19 transmission – also known as Rt – dropped to 1.22, tied for the third-worst such rate in the country.

West Virginia has outperformed the national average, as well as the rates of all of its bordering states, in percentage of population tested, percentage of population positive, and percentage of positive test results. West Virginia has also outperformed the national average in case fatality rate.

Click here to view the latest COVID-19 data

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that, at his direction, the West Virginia National Guard is holding a free testing event today at the Kanawha County Health Department until 8 p.m. The testing is available to everyone, but the Governor specifically encouraged first responders and essential workers to attend.The Governor also announced that he has directed the National Guard to stand up free testing sites in all red, orange, and gold counties immediately. Additional times and locations will be announced as soon as they are available.

Meanwhile, additional free testing events are still scheduled to take place all across the state in the coming weeks.

Click here to view all locations, dates, times and more details

Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice took time to thank Appalachian Power for recently lending a helping hand to the National Guard.“We have a huge warehouse and maintenance facility near Nitro that the National Guard operates. It’s where we store our PPE and it’s also a food bank that supports thousands of West Virginians,” Gov. Justice said. “Yesterday, the power went out and AEP worked throughout the night to replace underground lines to get the power up and going this morning.

“We want to send out a special thanks to them for stepping up and doing that great work,” Gov. Justice continued.