MORGANTOWN — The widely circulated video of closely packed, unmasked New Year partiers at the Greenbrier dominated the press conversation at Monday’s COVID-19 briefing from the governor’s office.
There was also discussion of the vaccination program, but Gov. Jim Justice fielded five questions on the Greenbrier party. Justice is owner and CEO of the Greenbrier, but his daughter Jilean Justice runs it.
The Dominion Post first learned of the video from Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, who provided a copy. He also shared some Facebook comments posted by Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, the new Senate minority leader.
Baldwin posted that there have been too many gatherings in the past 10 months that have violated guidelines but he tries to stay positive. But, “The video on social media of a party at The Greenbrier is upsetting. Because it showed a violation of guidelines. Because it puts the community at risk. Because it runs counter to the work the task force and the hotel do every week to keep local folks safe. … We can’t be having large groups like that or else these high infection rates will just continue.”
He says the hotel has been a regular member of the Greater Greenbrier COVID task force and has been a good partner to the community. “This video is indicative of a larger issue we face right now. People are tired of living like this. They are hosting and attending parties. Churches are allowing singing and large groups. Businesses are looking the other way on masks. We must stay strong until we finish the race. This is a marathon, and we have many miles to go.”
After the first question on the topic, Justice said, “Let’s just call it what it is. … It’s a political hit at me.”
He emphasized each time that he doesn’t run the place, hasn’t been in that part of the hotel in a long time and was at home in bed watching the Times Square ball drop that night. After it dropped, he went to sleep. He learned about the video after the press did.
The Greenbrier employs 1,500 people, he said, and had as many guests that night. It has protocols in place. Someone is going to do something wrong to provide a social media photo op. But they even cleared away furniture in the ballroom to keep people from cramming together.
“If the Greenbrier’s doing something they’re not supposed to do, absolutely they will have me on them as fast as stink on you know what.”
But Justice chose to take it personally when asked by MetroNews if the behavior of the people there set a poor example regarding Jutice’s message of pulling the rope together. He said, “I don’t know how to answer it.” He repeated the points about protocols and numbers of travelers and not being there. He said he gets calls about how safe the place is.
“I’m not making any excuses. I’m not dodging any bullets. … Could they have done better in this situation? Probably so. … I don’t know the details.”
He dwelt several times on the hotel employing 1,500 and asked if they should just close it to avoid this kind of problem.
Asked about the apparent unfairness, he said, “I don’t want any special nothin’ for me.” The video may have followed a balloon drop and champagne toast when people had their masks off. “If they had their masks off they shouldn’t have had their masks off.” If mistakes were made, someone needs to “experience the wrath.” He and his wife, Cathy, talked about the incident and said if they had been there and seen people unmasking, they would have stopped it.
At the end of the briefing, he commented on the initiatives he launched last week – reopening schools, vaccines for seniors and school staff. But most of the questions have been about this. “We expect our people and myself to do good. We can’t really expect the nice thing in exchange. … I don’t need a pass. I don’t need patted on the back. … I’m going to continue to try to do the greatness as best I possibly can. … I don’t begrudge the questions. It’s just part of the job.”
Bureau for Public Health Commissioner Ayne Amjad also was asked to weigh in. She saw the footage, she said. If anyone from any holiday party has symptoms, see a doctor. “We expected people to get together. … We are aware of such events across the state. We get multiple calls all the time.”
The state coronavirus dashboard shows 103,375 vaccine doses received and 52,221 administered as of Monday – a 50% rate. Justice said he didn’t like the way the information is presented because 16,000 doses received are for the second round of shots for those who’ve had the first shot.
The state has received 87,000 doses for the first round of vaccines and, using that number, the true administration rate is closer to 60%.
Justice said that so far 8,300 people age 80 and up have received their first vaccine round under the new initiative. “I guaran-flat-tee you we saved lives; we saved a potful of lives.” And he wants to get more vaccines into more arms. That will protect more people and assure the flow of doses to the state.
Adjutant General James Hoyer, in his last briefing in that role, said they expect 23,000 more doses this week. “That is nowhere near what we need.”
The Dominion Post noted some anecdotal reports of seniors showing up for vaccines, waiting in long lines and being turned away. It asked if this is a prevalent problem and if they are considering tweaking the system to move away from first-come-first-served to an appointment basis.
Justice didn’t answer the question of whether it’s been prevalent, only saying, “Sure, there’s bumps.” He did say they are trying to move to an appointment process.
He spent the rest of his response saying they could have wasted two to three weeks studying the issue to make it perfect and gotten no one vaccinated instead of the 8,300 they did. And jeopardized future shipments by letting doses sit unused. “How many lives did we save instead of studying the situation?”
On different aspect of the vaccine program, COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said the United Kingdom has taken a different approach, trying to get the first dose into as many people as possible – offering some lesser degree of immunity – and not worrying if people get the Pfizer vaccine one time and the Moderna the next.
He said West Virginia has chosen the best-practice course advised by Dr. Anthony Fauci and demonstrated in the clinical trials, making sure the dosage schedule – 21 days for Pfizer, 28 days for Moderna – is followed and brands aren’t mixed.