MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice lowered the Operation Save Our Wisdom age from 70 to 65 on Tuesday.
He did it, he said, to bring the senior citizen vaccine program in line with CDC guidance and guard the already scant supply. “If we don’t go to 65 they may very well restrict the number of vaccines they want to send.”
Justice often talks bout being Jim, Jimmy or James, depending on the seriousness of the issue is he’s dealing with. Talking about the limited vaccine supply, he said, “Now’s the time when I’m James.”
“We can’t give you a vaccine shot if we don’t have the vaccines.”
They expected an additional 25,000 doses Monday or Tuesday that didn’t come, he said. Instead, the state received 23,000 first round doses, plus more allotted for the second round.
“It’s not acceptable and it’s inadequate,” he said. He and his team will keep the pressure on the feds. “I’m going to keep calling.” With West Virginia still leading the nation – 99.6% administration rate for first doses, 85.5% for second – “I think performance ought to be rewarded.”
Justice said he’s authorized a new system to make it easier for people to get scheduled for vaccines.
Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch elaborated a bit on that system.
By the end of this week, he hopes, callers will be able to registered via an online system that will notify them by their preferred method – text, email, phone – of their vaccine time. Wait times have exceeded two minutes so he urged patience.
Local health departments will be tied in, he said.
And within the next two weeks, people will be able to go online themselves and register without calling, Crouch said.
The new CDC vaccine guidance includes not only those age 65 and up but those under 65 who have underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable. In that context, The Dominion Post has received regular questions from the developmental disability community about when they might be wrapped in to the vaccine program.
As it turned out, Gen. James Hoyer, leader of the Joint Interagency Task Force, brought up the issue, which dovetailed with The Dominion Post’s question on the matter.
COVID-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh first commented on it before Hoyer elaborated. Marsh said they do include people with disabilities and people in group settings in their plans. While age is the primary discriminator, “we are very much aware of people with other health risks and disabilities” and they want to get to them as fast as possible.
Hoyer agreed with Justice’s previous comments on the supply issue. In the meantime, he said they are working to grow distribution networks and partnerships every day.
Tueday morning, he said, he had a conversation with West Virginia VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) and 20 groups representing those with developmental disabilities and behavioral health.
They are developing, he said, a network of transportation for those who are able go to sites to get vaccinated and to deliver vaccines to those who can’t get out. “I think we’re making good progress and as vaccines become available we will get to that.”
On COVID numbers, West Virginia’s death toll reached 1,815 on Tuesday. Some areas showed improvement: Hospitalizations have steadily fallen since Jan. 5, when they peaked at 818, and were at 638 on Tuesday; ICU numbers have also fallen, from the Jan. 6 peak of 219 to 162.
Only 17 counties are red. Monongalia is gold, with neighbors Preston and Wetzel red, Marion orange and Taylor yellow. The Rt rate, estimating the rate of spread, was .85, still best in the nation.
Finally, Justice sadly reported that the COVID death toll reached his own cabinet. He announced the death of Dennis Davis, secretary of the Department of Veterans Assistance. Davis’ department bio notes that he was a retired educator, former West Virginia Workforce Development director and U.S. Army veteran.
“We’ve lost a big man, a man that was towering in stature but was absolutely a model in every way,” Justice said. “This really, really hits home with me.”
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