Government, Latest News, State Government, West Virginia Legislature

Justice and team: State near peak of BA.5 surge; Justice fields questions on taxes and abortion law

MORGANTOWN – Gov. Jim Justice and his team said on Monday that the nation has passed the hump of the BA.5 COVID surge and West Virginia will soon reach the peak and head down.

Justice also fielded questions about the still-paused special session on taxes and abortion law, and about his corrections officer state of emergency.

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said the nation is starting to see BA.5 omicron cases fall, though West Virginia always runs a few weeks behind the national trends. The Walgreens COVID positivity index is 37% for the U.S., 42% for West Virginia.

He anticipates, he said, to see numbers her decline over the next week or a bit more.

Marsh reminded listeners that the CDC last week updated its COVID guidance for those not up to date on vaccines. The CDC says on its website, “We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools—like vaccination, boosters, and treatments—to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19.”

Instead of quarantining, those who’ve been exposed should wear a high-quality mask for 10 days, CDC said. Those in school who’ve been exposed but show no symptoms can stay in school.

An MRI brain study of people who’ve had COVID, Marsh said, show that many of those patients show subtle changes to their brains and suffer subtle cognitive effects – brain fog.

A separate study, he said, shows changes to brain cells called astrocytes that regulate blood flow and injury repair in the brain. The loss of smell and taste may be the entryway of COVID into the brain.

Monday’s numbers showed 2,891 active cases – down from Friday’s 3,547 – and 1,896 new cases. Hospitalizations are also dipping, down from last Wednesday’s 385 to 333 on Monday, with 46 in ICUs and 13 on ventilators.

Joint Interagency Task Force Director Gen. James Hoyer said that while the hospital number is down, they’re still seeing 45-60 daily admissions and remain prepared for reaching the critical 500 number, with a tabletop planning exercise set for Aug. 22. They still anticipate some growth just past Labor Day.

Public Health Comissioner Ayne Amjad said the Department of Health and Human Resources bought 16 vans to serve as mobile testing and vaccination sites. They will be available for K-12 public and private schools and for community events. Several have already been sent out to county health departments.

Political news

The July special session paused at a stalemate of rival tax-cut proposals and philosophical differences over updating state abortion law.

Asked where Justice stands on the tax plans, he said he’s had some conversations with several people, including House Finance chair Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, and is willing to negotiate. “I’m there 1,000%.”

But some in the Senate don’t want to negotiate, he said. “They want to expend all the dollars in a direction I personally believe is very risky, to say the least.”

The Senate plan to cut business personal property tax would chiefly benefit big corporations, he said, many of them out of state, instead of West Virginia workers. But he could get behind a hybrid bill combining the Senate’s elimination of the vehicle property tax with his and the House’s income tax cut.

Under the Senate plan, he said, budget road bumps put police, fire and EMS service and schools at risk, and shift control from local governments to Charleston.

“We’ve got a real stalemate there,” he said.

On the abortion law bill, the Senate and House have differences over criminal penalties for performing illegal abortions and the extent of exceptions for rape and incest.

Justice said it’s not really an abortion issue. “In my opinion it’s a life issue. … We’ve got to have reason and logic.”

Justice declared a corrections officer state of emergency last week because of staffing shortages tied to low pay, particularly in the Eastern Panhandle where locality pay to be competitive with border states is an issue.

Justice said locality pay is needed but could raise questions of fairness and stir resentment for those not getting the boost. “It needs real, live discussion.”

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