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State sends COVID vaccine plan to CDC; Justice revisits CARES dollars spending

MORGANTOWN — The state submitted its COVID-19 vaccine plan to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Friday. Gov. Jim Justice held up a copy of the thick document as he made the announcement Friday afternoon.

“This is not just nothing, this is an absolutely amazing report,” he said. CDC will review and approve the plan, which was prepared by a COVID working group that included the Department of Health and Human Resources, the National Guard, the Office of Minority Affairs and medical experts, Justice said.

Once a vaccine is ready, the state experts will review the data on the vaccine’s safety as they prepare to unfold the plan.

Bureau of Public Health Commissioner Ayne Amjad commented, “We’re hoping to lead the country with our document.”

Asked about how and when the vaccine will be delivered, Amjad said healthcare and other front-line workers will receive it first, then the most vulnerable residents such as those in nursing homes.

On the timing, COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said human trials will come first, the best vaccines will emerge and dosage supplies will ramp up. He believes they’ll start being administered in the first quarter of 2021 – January-March – then become more widespread during the second quarter, April-June. “I think you’ll see it come in phases.”

Justice offered ome “inside baseball” from his federal connections and said a vaccine could be out before the end of February.

No one described what’s in the plan. Justice said more will be explained in the coming days.

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch commented on the large number of positive tests reported in the prior 24 hours – 498. The Friday dashboard included 11,000 tests and that resulted from the addition of more labs tying into the state Health Information Network instead of using faxes. From Oct. 9 through Friday the number of reporting labs grew from 97 to 170.

Amjad cautioned about relying on COVID data posted on the website, saying it’s not accurate.

WV United describes itself a s caucus of rank-and-file members of the two state teacher unions and its website includes a COVID tracking page regarding students and school personnel.

Amjad said the local health departments work with the state and local boards to provide accurate data. Regarding WV United, she said, “I’ve reviewed this website. We have all reviewed this website. It is not accurate data. We caution people to look at this very carefully.” It relies heavily in anecdotal reports and could be duplicated or false data.

CARES dollars – again

Justice spent a good part of his Friday briefing re-justifying his CARES money allocations in the wake of ongoing criticisms. Among the complaints: He’s sitting on $983 million while individuals and businesses are hurting; $50 is wasted patching potholes; he’s using it as a slush fund leading up to the election.

He detailed the “buckets”: small business grants, $40 million; local governments, $200 million, of which $152 million has been allotted and the total could top $200 million; National Guard, testing and PPE materials fo rschools, $50 million; broadband, $50 million; “medical access highways,” $50 million; Fairmont Regional Medical Center, $10 million; public service districts, $25 million; state reimbursement for the fourth quarter of Fiscal Year 2020, $57 million; state reimbursement for the first two quarters of FY 2021, $96 million anticipated; state emergency fund reimbursement, $25 million.

He justified the roads money as improving access to medical facilities during the pandemic.

Tjhe two biggest buckets are for Workers’ Compensation: $287 million through July 1, to restock the drained benefit fund coffers; $300 million for the remainder of the calendar year.

The total: $1.19 billion.

If he hadn’t put money into unemployment, he said, businesses could have seen their taxes rise by five times. The feds allow the state to use CARES money for that purpose, he said.

Regarding the $300 million, he said, “We have got to have those dollars to be able to get our federal dollars.”

Overall, he said, “We have absolutely prioritized, pledged and obligated these dollars.” There’s only $60 million unpledged, not $983 million. The dollars have to stay in all their buckets in order to maintain flexibilities in government. “Don’t let anybody feed you this junk that there’s this hoarding of this money. … This is good, rock solid stuff.”

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