MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday he wants all West Virginians who can to get out and enjoy the state parks. So all state residents can receive a 30% lodging discount at all state parks from June 1 through Aug. 31.
The program, he said, is called WVSTRONG. Park cabins can be booked online at wvstateparks.com, using the WVSTRONG code to obtain the discount. It’s available only to state residents.
He said the program began as an idea to reward COVID-19 front-line responders and workers for their work, but he realized a targeted reward could easily leave someone out so he broadened it to all residents.
Justice said he had hoped to give dates and guidance on pools, bowling alleys and movie theaters reopening on Wednesday but that got delayed and he expected to have it ready on Thursday.
And while people are anxiously awaiting dates and guidance for fairs and festivals, that might be two weeks away, he said. “We’re really trying to digest and buy some time. We’ve got some more hard work in front of us.”
Justice reported that the Division of Motor Vehicles announced it will be will offering appointments for services that must be done in-person start Tuesday, May 26. Locally, appointments will be offered at the Fairmont regional office but not Morgantown. Appointments can be arranged online at dmv.wv.gov.
DMV will also be offering driving skills tests, with the examiner observing from outside the car and a licensed driver inside with the testeee, starting Tuesday. The Fairmont office is one nine offering that service.
And DMV has extended the deadline for renewing licenses and registrations that expired from March 1 through Aug. 1 to Aug. 1.
The Department of Health and Human Resources continues its free, and restriction-free, local COVID-19 testing Friday and Saturday in four counties: Monongalia, Marion, Cabell Kanawha. All sites are open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and no doctor’s order is needed.
This program began as a means to help the African-American and minority communities have more ready access to testing but the sites are open to everyone.
In Mon County, the sites will be: Big Lots, 902 Fairmont Road, Westover, Friday only; WVU Coliseum and Mountainview Elementary School, 661 Green Bag Road, Morgantown, both Saturday only.
The Marion site will be at Windmill Park, 900 Ogden Avenue, Fairmont, both days.
Identification, such as a driver’s license or proof of address, is required to be tested. Those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, DHHR said in a release on the testing.
Governor’s office General Counsel Brian Abraham said many calls come in form various businesses seeking clarification on the 25-person public gathering limit.
He said this would apply to such things as an outdoor picnic, but not to essential businesses, restaurants, churches and such. Those facilities have guidelines published at governor.wv.gov and they should follow those. Restaurants, for example, must operate at no higher than 50% capacity. If one has a capacity of 100, 50 people are allowed in.
Betsy Jividen, commissioner of the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said two inmates and two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at Huttonsville Correctional Center. The inmates were identified because they had low-grade fevers, and they were quarantined.
The National Guard came on site on Wednesday, she said, and began enhanced testing; 200 employees were tested Wednesday and the rest will be on Thursday. The 43 inmates housed in the same block with the two positive inmates also were tested. The Bureau of Public Health has begun contact tracing.
They are awaiting results and will obtain guidance from DHHR on what to do next when the results are in, she said.
WorkForce West Virginia Director Scott Adkins said WorkForce has distributed more than $600 million worth of unemployment benefits to more than 200,000 eligible people since March 16. There was a recent glitch for some who were expecting CARES Act Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments on May 12 or 13. That’s been resolved. Those who receive their benefits via debit card will see the money on Friday.
Anwering a question, Adkins said statewide unemployment stands at 15.2% but will likely peak somewhere in the 20-22% range.
Justice added that while that number is still trending up this month, the May revenue numbers are a little better than what they expected. They projected revenue would be about about 75% of what it would be without the pandemic, but it’s coming it a bit better than that.
COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said that as The Comeback progresses, they will be especially monitoring the Eastern Panhandle, as the D.C.-Maryland area is the nation’s fastest growing for new cases.
He returned to the topic of masks, citing research that shows if 80% of the people would wear them, that would reduce the threat of spread and keep The Comeback moving forward.
Japan, he said has a population about 38% of the United States, but has had only 785 deaths compared to nearly nearly 93,000 here. Japan hasn’t shut down as the U.S. has, but the people are culturally accustomed to wearing masks and have been doing so during the pandemic.
Marsh said Massachusetts-based Moderna appears to be making some progress on a vaccine, but we’re really up to 18 months away from having one. Meanwhile, masks help prevent the spread.
Justice picked up on the Japan theme, saying, “In the U.S., you know a lot of times we push our liberties.” We can get away with not wearing masks and we do it. “Before you know it we get ourselves in trouble.”
The Japanese and those who wear their masks here, he said, know they’re protecting themselves and others. So it begin with each of us taking care of ourself. “You have to manage you, West Virginia.”
Week 4 of The Comeback begins Thursday. Indoor malls, large and specialty retail stores, indoor restaurants all may reopen, State park campgrounds will reopen to in-state residents and a variety of outdoor activities will be allowed to resume.
Week 5 begins Tuesday, after the Memorial Day holiday. State Park cabins and lodges will open to in-state residents; museums and visitor centers, zoos and bars will be allowed to reopen, with indoor bars limited to 50% capacity.
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