West Virginia reports more than 80 virus cases at prison

By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — More than 80 people at a West Virginia prison have tested positive for the coronavirus as hundreds of results are still pending in the state’s first correctional facility outbreak, officials said Tuesday.
The state corrections department said at least 76 inmates and eight staffers at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County have the virus. The prison reported its first case last week.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice said he ordered testing throughout the facility after screenings had been limited to the area where the initial cases were located. More than 650 tests are still pending and the governor said he said he expects cases to rise as the results are returned.
“We’re on it and we’re trying to take care of these people just as we’ve taken care of ourselves, because they deserve that,” Justice told reporters.
Separately, at least five inmates have tested positive at FCI Gilmer, a federal prison in Glenville, after the federal Bureau of Prisons transferred 124 inmates to the lockup. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has said Attorney General William Barr has assured him that no additional inmates will be relocated to Gilmer.
Statewide, at least 74 people have died from the virus and about 1,850 have tested positive, according to state health data.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptom. But for others, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.
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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and h ttps://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

West Virginia bar exam will be given in July with distancing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Board of Law Examiners will go ahead with the bar examination this summer, with policies worked out with government and medical experts amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The dates for the exam are July 28 and 29. It will be given at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.
Applicants, administrators and proctors may be screened before entering the site, with applicants not allowed to enter if their temperature is 100.4 degrees or higher, according to a news release from the state Supreme Court.
Applicants will have to be 6 feet apart when in line to enter or exit and during the exam. Only one applicant will sit at each table. Applicants, administrators and proctors also must wear masks.
Anyone traveling to West Virginia from out of state for the exam may be required to quarantine for 14 days before the exam, based on an executive order issued in March.

W.Va. governor calls for investigation into campaign ads

By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Tuesday called for an investigation into campaign ads that accuse him of freeing a convicted murderer from prison early.
Justice’s reelection campaign filed a complaint with the secretary of state saying Republican primary challenger Woody Thrasher’s ads are based on information that has been proven false.
The ads criticize Justice for releasing the man as part of a deal to parole dozens of inmates during the coronavirus pandemic. But just hours after the first commercial aired, state corrections officials admitted they mistakenly listed the man among those released under the deal. They said he was actually let out for unrelated reasons, after doing his time and then serving 60 days for an alleged probation violation.
“Woody Thrasher continues to run misleading ads to the people of West Virginia, even after independent government agencies have said he is wrong,” said Roman Stauffer, the governor’s campaign manager.
Thrasher’s campaign said the governor is trying to “cover up” the facts around the inmate’s release.
“Jim Justice is so incapable of telling the truth and accepting any responsibility for his actions that he’s scrambling to find any way to cover up the mess he’s put us all in by releasing violent criminals and child predators,” Ann Ali, campaign manager for Thrasher, said in a statement.
Thrasher has heavy criticized Justice since announcing his candidacy. He was previously the governor’s commerce secretary but resigned after numerous complaints about the management of a flood recovery program.
The man, 35-year-old Michael David Day, was convicted of killing a homeless Vietnam veteran as a teenager. He was sentenced to life in prison but was paroled in 2017 after a U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled it unconstitutional for juveniles to receive mandatory life sentences. Day was jailed again in January on an alleged probation violation and released March 27.
A spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office said it does not comment on investigations.

Feds: West Virginia mail carrier altered ballot requests

By JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia postal carrier has been charged with attempted election fraud after eight mail-in requests for absentee voter ballots had their party affiliations altered, including five from Democrat to Republican, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Thomas Cooper delivered the forms last month to the Pendleton County clerk from eight voters, U.S. Attorney Bill Powell said in a statement.
An investigation by the secretary of state’s office found five of the ballot requests were changed from Democrat to Republican with a black ink pen, according to a federal affidavit.
Absentee ballots have become a political flashpoint nationally in recent weeks, often along partisan lines. Some state governors have moved to make absentee ballots more available in this year’s elections because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Other elected officials, including President Donald Trump, have raised concerns that expanding the practice would increase the likelihood of election fraud. Examples of mail-in ballot fraud have been minimal, and Trump himself has voted absentee in recent elections.
Absentee ballot applications were mailed to all registered voters in West Virginia last month in a bid to encourage mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Bennie Cogar, an attorney general’s office investigator who conducted the probe on behalf of the secretary of state’s office, said in the affidavit that the Pendleton County clerk called some of the voters after receiving the requests because she knew they were not Republicans. The clerk then contacted the secretary of state’s office to report the alterations.
On the other three requests, the voters’ party was not changed. However, in addition to the “Republican” box originally checked in blue ink, the word “Republican” was later circled in black ink, the affidavit said.
Cooper, 47, of Dry Fork, held a postal contract to pick up mail in the three towns in which the voters live, the affidavit said.
Cooper admitted in an interview with Cogar and a postal inspector that he changed some of the requests he picked up from the Onega post office from Democrat to Republican.
According to the affidavit, when he was then asked about the other requests, Cooper said, “I’m not saying no,” but if the requests were picked up along his postal route, “I would take the blame.” Cooper was then asked if he was “just being silly” and he replied he did it “as a joke” and that he didn’t know those voters.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Cooper has an attorney who could comment on the charge on his behalf.

1 in 10 West Virginia voters send in absentee ballots

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — More than 11% of West Virginia’s registered voters have returned absentee ballots for the June 9 primary election.
Secretary of State Mac Warner said Tuesday that more than 249,000 absentee ballots were requested and nearly 136,000 of those have been returned to county clerks.
All registered voters are permitted to use an absentee mail-in ballot under the “other medical reason” excuse due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In-person early voting runs from Wednesday through June 6.

West Virginia governor expands reopenings as hotspots emerge

By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday expanded his aggressive plan to lift coronavirus restrictions after announcing new hotspots in the state’s eastern panhandle.
The Republican governor said he is considering a mandatory face mask order for Berkeley and Jefferson counties after at least 35 new cases were reported there in a single day. He has dispatched the National Guard to the region to assess the situation.
“We’ll do whatever we have to do and we’ll pull on the reins until we turn it and it starts flowing back our way,” Justice told reporters.
Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, said emerging cases in Berkeley and Jefferson counties aren’t surprising, given their proximity to Washington D.C. and its surrounding suburbs. He said the cases are part of the “first steps that we need to learn of this new dance” of reopening during the pandemic.
Justice, right after detailing the spike in the eastern panhandle, set the timeline for the next steps of his reopening strategy. He will allow swimming pools, bowling alleys, spas and video lottery retailers to reopen May 30. On June 5, movie theaters and casinos can open.
Thursday marked the most aggressive phase of Justice’s reopenings, with indoor restaurants, tanning salons, malls, big box stores, all-terrain vehicle rentals, campgrounds, the Hatfield-McCoy trails and whitewater rafting and zipline businesses allowed to resume services just ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
The governor stressed that people should wear masks in public as businesses reopen, putting special emphasis on the safety precautions in Berkeley and Jefferson counties.
“The masks may very well be the key to everything,” he said.
Justice’s reopening plan depends on the cumulative positive test rate remaining below 3% for three days, a benchmark that he acknowledged is difficult to break since it factors in tens of thousands of old tests.
Marsh, echoing guidance from the White House, had previously said he wanted to see the number of new cases decline for two weeks before lifting restrictions. He now says the state has enough downward trending metrics to warrant reopening.
At least 71 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 1,600 have tested positive, state health data shows.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.
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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

West Virginia to offer discounts on park lodging

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday announced that he’s going to offer discount lodging at state parks to show his appreciation for people’s actions during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Republican said in-state residents renting lodges, cabins or campsites can get a 30% discount for stays between June 1 and August 31.
“At the end of the day, all West Virginians have been heroes throughout these unusual times,” he said. “Because of the resiliency and strength you have shown, following the advice of our experts, our state has seen some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 cases in the country.”
Residents can book reservations on the state parks website to claim the discount. People with existing reservations should see the discount appear automatically within two weeks.

Colleges plan fall opening, but campuses won’t look the same

By COLLIN BINKLEY AP Education Writer
Growing numbers of U.S. colleges are pledging to reopen this fall, with dramatic changes to campus life to keep the coronavirus at bay. Big lectures will be a thing of the past. Dorms will will be nowhere near capacity. Students will face mandatory virus testing. And at some smaller schools, students may be barred from leaving campus.
Even as some universities abandon hope of in-person instruction next semester, citing concerns from public health officials, dozens are announcing plans to welcome students back in August. They acknowledge that an outbreak could force classes back online, but many of their leaders say the financial and political pressures to reopen are too large to ignore.
At West Virginia University, President E. Gordon Gee said students don’t want to wait for a vaccine, and the school can’t afford to.
“If it was simply based on science, we would keep everything shut down until we have a vaccine and until it’s working. But I don’t feel that that’s feasible, either economically or socially, and certainly not educationally,” Gee said. “We will open, but it will be different.”
Colleges planning to reopen include Purdue University, Texas A&M University, the University of Notre Dame and statewide systems in Arizona, Florida, New Hampshire and elsewhere. Some plan to make decisions this summer, including Princeton University, where officials say it’s too soon to make a call.
The California State University system, by contrast, has said its 23 campuses will stay mostly online this fall, citing predictions of a virus resurgence later this year. Others including the University of South Carolina, Rice and Creighton universities plan to bring students back but end the term early, before Thanksgiving, anticipating a second wave could hit later in the fall.
President Donald Trump has encouraged schools to reopen despite concerns from his top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Speaking at a Senate hearing last week, Fauci said it would be “a bit of a bridge too far” to expect a vaccine before the fall. Trump countered that the comment was “not an acceptable answer.”
New guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week say colleges should work with state and local officials to decide how to reopen. But the agency suggests a range of safety measures for campuses, saying they should keep common spaces closed if possible, hold smaller classes in larger rooms, and install plastic barriers in areas where it’s hard to stay apart.
In other countries emerging from lockdown, universities have been slow to reopen. Primary schools in France were allowed to reopen earlier this month, but universities are expected to remain closed through the summer. Universities in New Zealand have been granted permission to reopen, but most say they plan to stay online until July or later.
Britain’s Cambridge University announced Wednesday that all in-person lectures will be canceled through the 2020-21 academic year because of the pandemic.
In the U.S., colleges that plan to reopen have told students to expect strict social distancing measures, including mandatory use of face masks. College leaders say widespread virus testing will be the linchpin to a safe reopening. At many schools, students who test positive would be placed in dorm rooms reserved as quarantine space.
But there are questions about schools’ ability to provide large numbers of tests. Some research universities say they have the lab equipment to analyze virus tests, but not enough swabs and testing chemicals. Smaller schools will need to hire companies to handle tests, likely at a significant cost.
In a call with 14 university leaders last week, Vice President Mike Pence pledged to help colleges ramp up testing operations. But some on the call said details, especially about funding, remain hazy.
“This testing is going to cost money, and many academic institutions are already going to be fiscally challenged,” said Michael Lovell, president of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “There’s not a clear path from an institutional point of view.”
Once students are back on campus, the primary goal will be to keep them spaced out, colleges say. Classroom desks will be arranged 6 feet apart. Class schedules may be staggered. Big lectures will be split up or moved online. Some colleges are discussing teaching certain classes outside or in tents.
A growing number of colleges say they will offer a “hybrid flex” model, in which classes are offered online and in person at the same time, and students can choose either option. Professors at some colleges will also be allowed to continue teaching remotely through video feeds projected in the classroom.
Most vexing for colleges, however, is the dilemma of dorm life. At some schools, suites meant for several students will be limited to one or two. Bathrooms shared by entire floors will be restricted to a handful of students. With only so much dorm space, some colleges have been scrambling to rent nearby apartments as overflow housing.
At Trinity College, a school of 2,000 in Hartford, Connecticut, officials hope to place every student in their own room. Staff members have been scouring campus with tape measures in recent weeks to make sure students will have space to stay 6 feet apart.
“I have a huge incentive to want to reopen. I want to see our students. I want to see them educated in the best way possible,” Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney said. “And I also want to remain a significant and good employer in the state of Connecticut at a time when that’s really important.”
Boston University is exploring whether the housing problem can be solved by placing students into “family groups” that live together but have little social interaction with other groups. Robert Brown, the school’s president, said placing all students alone “may be overly isolating for students and lead to another set of problems.”
At Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles, officials are wondering how their single dining hall will accommodate 900 students who buy meal plans. The school is weighing measures to restrict capacity in the hall, which may require students to eat in shifts or take their meals outside.
It’s just one way in which campus life will “not be the same as what we have grown so accustomed to,” said Hiram Chodosh, president of the college.
Hoping to keep the virus away, some smaller colleges are considering limits or even outright bans on travel in and out of campus. In a recent letter to students, Amherst College in Massachusetts said officials “may need to require that you limit your movement to on-campus locations only.”
At West Virginia, Gee said he’ll rely on students to police their own behavior. He argues that peer pressure is more effective “than a 76-year-old university president saying don’t do it.” Gee, known for his impromptu appearances at student activities on campus and off, said he will scale back this fall, much to his chagrin.
“It’s going to be a lot different for me, and I’m going to miss that,” Gee said. “But I view us as dancing with the coronavirus. This is going to be with us forever, even once we find a vaccine. We just need to learn how to manage it in a way that allows life to go on.”

Nearly 5K West Virginians file for jobless aid

By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Almost 5,000 West Virginians filed for unemployment benefits last week amid the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns, according to federal data released Thursday.
The new applications come as nearly 39 million Americans have sought jobless aid since the outbreak began two months ago and forced businesses to shut their doors.
West Virginia’s unemployment rate has hit 15% and the state has processed more than 164,000 unemployment claims since March, officials said.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice is pushing forward with an aggressive plan to lift virus restrictions on businesses. On Thursday, he’s allowing the reopening of restaurants, tanning salons, malls, big box stores, all-terrain vehicle rentals, campgrounds, the Hatfield-McCoy trails and whitewater rafting and zipline businesses.
The governor is also letting cabins, lodges, bars at half-capacity, museums and zoos reopen on May 26. On May 30, spas and video lottery retailers can resume operations. Casinos can reopen June 5.
Justice’s plan to lift restrictions hinges on the state’s positive test rate staying under 3% for three days, loosening a previous goal of having the number of new cases drop for two weeks. Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, has said the state has enough downward trending indicators to ease restrictions.
At least 71 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 1,600 have tested positive, according to health officials.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover
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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

Huttonsville prison virus cases reach 6

HUTTONSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — At least six people from the Huttonsville Correctional Center have now tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Thursday.
Figures released by the state show four staffers and two inmates of the Randolph County prison have the virus.
Officials said the four employees are recovering at home in good condition and the two inmates have been quarantined since Monday.
The state corrections department reported the first case at the prison on Monday and have since moved to carryout widespread testing at the facility.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptom. But for others, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.