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West Virginia Headlines

WVa sets daily record for virus tests reported positive

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia has reported a daily record for the percentage of positive coronavirus tests among all tests given.
The daily positive rate of 16.4% on Sunday broke the mark of 12.6% set last Tuesday. Tuesday’s rate had been the highest rate since April.
There were 302 confirmed virus cases Sunday, but the overall number of tests reported administered was much lower than the average from recent weeks.
The number of positive virus cases reported statewide last week, 5,634, was the lowest in a month and was down nearly 18% from the record 6,848 confirmed cases reported for the week ending Dec. 20.
The virus usually results in only mild to moderate symptoms, but is particularly dangerous for the elderly and people with other health problems.
There were 720 people hospitalized for the virus in West Virginia on Sunday, down from the record of 781 on Dec. 16. But the number of people on hospital ventilators, 91, is one shy of the record set on Dec. 3.
There were 126 virus-related deaths in the state last week and nine more reported Monday, pushing the state’s total to at least 1,263 since the pandemic began.
Health officials said at least 60,875 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been received in the state and 30,737 doses have been administered.

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WVa Guard member who died responding to fire identified

KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — Authorities have identified a West Virginia Air National Guard member who died while helping firefighters respond to the scene of a blaze that had been intentionally set.
Senior Airman Logan Young of the 167th Airlift Wing died Sunday while responding to the fire in Kearneysville, the West Virginia National Guard said in a statement Monday.
“Logan stepped up to defend our country and protect our freedoms, and served as a first responder here at home,” Gov. Jim Justice said in a statement. “We owe everything we have to brave men and women like him.”
Young, 30, a Martinsburg resident, joined the Air National Guard in 2018 and served as a fire fighter in the 167th Civil Engineer Squadron. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2011, was deployed to the Middle East in 2014, and worked as a military police officer before transitioning into the Air National Guard, where he was employed full time as a fire fighter.
The fatal fire was connected to a nearby fire at another vacant structure reported about 20 minutes earlier, the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office said in a statement. Investigators determined both were the result of arson.

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Santa Stops: State Police hand out holiday cash to motorists

By GREG JORDAN, Bluefield Daily Telegraph undefined
PRINCETON, W.Va. (AP) — Flashing blue lights in a rear view mirror isn’t always a welcome sight, but the experience became a pleasant surprise Tuesday when a West Virginia state trooper gave the drivers he had pulled over a $100 bill just in time for Christmas.
Since 2014, an anonymous donor has been giving $1,000 that troopers with the West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment can present to motorists they stop. There are many times when people see troopers only when bad things happen, but playing Santa for a day gives local troopers an opportunity to see good reactions, Sgt. A.P. Christian said.
“We do try to do these things, especially with the young (troopers), so they can experience something other than bad, bad, bad,” Christian said.
Trooper J.S. VanMeter headed out on patrol Tuesday morning with his usual equipment and three crisp $100 bills ready. He was looking for infractions such as defective equipment or minor traffic violations that would give him a reason to stop people who could use some extra Christmas cash. It wasn’t the first time he has done Santa Stops.
“This is my third year doing this,” he said after thinking for a moment. “Yes, this will be my third year.”
VanMeter proceeded through Princeton as he listened to the usual calls over his radio and watched surrounding drivers. He soon spotted a blue pickup truck heading up Courthouse Road and initiated a traffic stop. The State Police cruiser and the pickup pulled over near the intersection of Route 460.
Jerry Heaton of Lashmeet thought VanMeter was pulling him over because the loaded trash bags in his truck were not secured, but it was only for a minor traffic violation. VanMeter went back to his cruiser, wrote a warning and walked back to the truck where he returned Heaton’s license, gave him the warning and a $100 bill.
“I thought it was because those (trash bags) were uncovered,” Heaton said as he smiled and held the surprise cash. “That’s what I thought.”
And the money was very welcome.
“It feels fabulous,” Heaton added. “I think any time anybody gives you $100, it’s fantastic.”
The money was a welcomed and helpful surprise just before Christmas.
“I guarantee you it will,” he said.
VanMeter resumed his patrol and later pulled over a car along Maple Acres Road. Amanda Jenkins of Lashmeet smiled as he approached and then explained why she was pulled over. He wrote a warning and brought back her license along with a $100 bill.
She was smiled even more when VanMeter gave her the money. How did she feel?
“Blessed,” she replied, adding the money would help with Christmas.
With one more $100 bill to bestow, VanMeter drove down Route 19 and initiated a traffic stop on a white Ford. Glenn Hagerman of Rock said he wasn’t sure why the trooper had pulled him over. He was sure what the surprise $100 meant to him.
“It’s a blessing,” Hagerman said. When asked what he could do with the money, he replied, “Something different for Christmas.”
“Bless you, sir,” he added when VanMeter turned to say goodbye.

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Pandemic cancels annual WVa Christmas tree recycling event

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An annual Christmas tree recycling event in West Virginia has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The event uses hundreds of Christmas trees to be repurposed as fish habitat in lakes around the state. Trees have been collected each year at Charleston’s Capitol Market. Last year a second collection site was added in Bridgeport.
Residents looking for an alternative to disposing of their trees in landfills can consider composting and mulching, the state Department of Environmental Protection said in a news release.
The DEP hopes the tree collection program will return for the 2021 holidays.

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Officials: Deputy dragged by suspect fleeing traffic stop

RIPLEY, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia deputy dragged on an interstate by a suspect fleeing a traffic stop is recovering in the hospital, authorities said.
The Jackson County deputy stopped a vehicle Sunday night on Interstate 77, news outlets reported, citing a statement from the sheriff’s office. The traffic stop turned into a drug investigation and the suspect, Davin Lamar Thorton, 30, attempted to flee, Chief Deputy Ross Mellinger said. The deputy tried to stop him and was dragged on the interstate pavement for an unknown distance before he was able to detach himself from the vehicle, Mellinger said.
Other officers then pursued and caught Thorton, who was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, fleeing, malicious assault and possession of a controlled substance, authorities said. Online jail records don’t say whether he has an attorney.
The deputy was treated at a hospital and is expected to make a full recovery, officials said.

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W. Virginia spent relatively little on virus protective gear

By CUNEYT DIL Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia, the last state to report a coronavirus case, spent relatively little on protective medical gear during the early months of the pandemic compared to other states, an Associated Press analysis shows.
While other states spent tens of millions of dollars, sometimes trusting new companies that failed to deliver promised orders, West Virginia mostly spent on a handful of distributors. It bought no ventilators.
State purchase orders given to AP through a public records request show West Virginia spent less than $3.6 million on masks, gloves, gowns and other protective gear from the onset of the pandemic through late spring.
Lawrence Messina, a spokesman for the state’s pandemic response, said Saturday that the state spent more than $8 million through early May on protective gear related to the virus outbreak. The additional expenditures were not included in the public records given to AP.
The AP found that states nationwide spent more than $7 billion for personal protective equipment and high-demand medical devices such as ventilators and infrared thermometers this spring. The data, obtained through open record requests, is the most comprehensive look yet at how much states were buying, whom they were paying and how much they were spending as they raced to stockpile scarce supplies.
The data covers the period from the emergence of COVID-19 in the U.S. in early 2020 to late spring, when many governors were describing the marketplace for protective gear and medical equipment as the Wild West. Supplies often went to the highest bidder, even if they were promised to someone else.
“Given the pandemic’s global reach, West Virginia was buying everything it could once a potential vendor was vetted and determined to be trustworthy,” said Messina. “It’s no exaggeration that the shortage was worldwide. As a result, West Virginia had to consider companies that could get PPE from overseas.”
The state of nearly 1.8 million people didn’t report a virus case until March 17. Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced a stay-at-home order a week later.
That day, the state placed an order of more than $1.1 million for 200,000 N95 masks from Martinsburg-based Ballard Safety, according to the records. It paid an average of $5.80 for each mask, which before the pandemic might have cost about 50 cents. This spring, states paid an average of $3 each, according to the AP’s analysis.
Two days later, the state placed a much cheaper order for 400,000 N95 masks. This time, it paid industrial supply company Fastenal just 87 cents per mask.
West Virginia didn’t crack 10,000 confirmed cases until late August, and the outbreak has since dramatically worsened. Daily case totals have broken records several times in recent weeks. Confirmed and probable deaths linked to COVID-19 exceeded 1,000 this week. There have been nearly 57,900 confirmed cases.
The bulk of the state’s three dozen orders in the early period went to Ballard Safety, with the initial pricey mask order, and Fastenal, where it spent a total of $1.5 million to buy N95 and KN95 masks, goggles, gloves and coveralls.
West Virginia spent anywhere from 77 cents to nearly $6 for N95 masks across three suppliers, according to the data provided to AP. The most expensive item it purchased was a single $226 thermometer from laboratory supplier Thomas Scientific.
Messina said Fastenal was initially “efficient at providing small amounts” of items, but the state looked to vendors that could fulfill larger orders.
Other expenditures in AP’s analysis included:
— Nearly $6,000 for 60,000 gloves from New York wholesaler DirectGlove.
— 20 thermometers bought on Amazon for $92 each.
— Nearly $245,000 on 42,600 N95 masks from Applya, a Greenville, South Carolina-based vendor. It cost $5.75 per mask.
— $55 for one lab coat from allheart.
The state had a cache of gloves, gowns, coveralls, N95 respirators and safety glasses left over from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, Messina said. He said the state also received personal protective equipment from the federal government’s stockpile and had enough ventilators in reserve.
“We feel that we have a solid safety stock for the state, and the medical supply system is catching up,” Messina said.

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Capito, Manchin receive 1st dose of COVID-19 vaccination

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s two U.S. senators say they have both received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination.
Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito tweeted a photo Friday of her vaccination. She said the shot was “quick, painless, and most importantly, it was safe.” She tweeted Saturday that her arm is a little tender, similar to after a flu shot, but otherwise, she is experiencing no problems.
In a news release, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin says he received the shot on Saturday morning and is feeling well. He also tweeted out footage of his vaccination, saying, “I didn’t feel a thing! This vaccine is safe & effective.”
Both said they had the vaccination in accordance with guidance from the Capitol’s Office of the Attending Physician.
The vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech requires two doses several weeks apart from the same company as the first shot, as does the Moderna vaccine granted emergency use authorization Friday by the Food and Drug Administration.

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Sentencing delay sought for fired VA staffer who killed 7

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — Lawyers are asking to delay the sentencing of a former staffer at a veterans hospital in West Virginia who pleaded guilty to intentionally killing seven patients with fatal doses of insulin.
Attorneys for Reta Mays, 46, filed a motion asking that her sentencing, which is scheduled for Feb. 18-19, be put off until mid-May because of concerns about the coronavirus, The Exponent Telegram reported. Prosecutors are opposing the request, citing the rights of the victims “to a reasonably prompt conclusion” to the case.
Mays, a former nursing assistant at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, was charged with seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with the intent to commit murder of an eighth person. She admitted in July to purposely killing the veterans, injecting them with unprescribed insulin while she worked overnight shifts at the hospital in northern West Virginia between 2017 and 2018.
She faces life sentences for each murder.
Defense attorneys say the jail where Mays is detained is raging with virus cases and they aren’t willing to go inside to meet with her, which is necessary before sentencing. Their motion says they expect the situation to be better by spring as the availability of vaccinations for the virus becomes widespread.
Federal prosecutors say the defense team had time to meet with witnesses before the pandemic cases began surging and they adamantly oppose any delay.
“The government argues that a three-month delay to a sentencing hearing that is currently two months away violates the victims’ statutory right to proceedings ‘free from unreasonable delay,'” prosecutors said in their response.
It wasn’t clear when the judge would rule on the request.

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West Virginia says next week’s Pfizer vaccine allotment down

By CUNEYT DIL Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia officials said the state will receive about 44% fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week than initially expected, in line with several other states.
“They had some hiccup,” said Gov. Jim Justice about the federal government’s distribution of the precious vaccine. “I don’t really know what it is. Hiccups are not really permissible when people are dying.”
The state expects about 11,700 doses to come in next week, down from 21,000. Pfizer has said its production levels have not changed and the Trump administration has downplayed the risk of delays.
Several states have said they are receiving a smaller allotment of doses than first projected, with little explanation for the shift. West Virginia officials said they were informed of their allocation on Thursday.
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, head of the West Virginia National Guard, said he was still optimistic in the state’s drive to vaccinate all long-term care centers within three weeks. A second vaccine from Moderna is awaiting emergency use authorization from federal authorities in the coming days, with 32,600 doses expected to initially ship to the state.
By Saturday morning the state plans to have administered about 8,000 shots at 50 nursing homes and assisted-living communities. Justice said that about 85% to 95% of residents at homes are taking the shots. But participation drops to about 60% among staff.
“That’s not good enough,” he said. “But as far as the residents, we’re doing well.”
The state attributes about half of its 1,091 total deaths linked to COVID-19 to long-term care centers. It has gotten a head start on many other states in quickly vaccinating facilities, through partnerships with dozens of local pharmacies that have established ties to facilities across the rural state.
The state reported 864 new confirmed coronavirus cases Friday, a day after a near record setting 1,245 cases. The daily positivity rate went down to 7.28%, still higher than public health officials hope for.
Since getting the first doses of the vaccine Monday, the state has distributed about 11,000 doses, mostly at hospitals and long-term care centers. Justice and four of his top aides involved in the coronavirus response received shots on camera, saying they wanted to display the vaccine’s safety, even as other governors wait for frontline workers to receive inoculations first. Vice President Mike Pence also received the shot live on TV on Friday.
There are 5.9 million doses of the vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health at the ready once the Food and Drug Administration gives it green light. Its use could begin as early as Monday.
The governor said he plans to prioritize people over the ages of 65 and 50 with preexisting conditions as the state continues its rollout of the vaccine.

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WVa nonprofits serving homeless people prepare for winter

By EDDIE TRIZZINO, Times West Virginian undefined
FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — Different local organizations that serve the homeless are ready for the cold winter months that lie ahead.
Fairmont Homeless Coalition coordinator D.D. Meighen told Fairmont City Council Tuesday that the organization has been working to provide basic needs along with substance abuse recovery to the homeless during the past year.
“During this year our Homeless Coalition has been a cooperative partner to help develop and support numerous programs that have been a godsend to many,” Meighen said. “The Fairmont friendship center has served this year 1,911 persons, even though the center was closed for a few months.”
Meighen asked the council to support some of the Homeless Coalition’s programs, including one of its biggest endeavors, Blessings from the Basement, which is managed by the Fairmont Woman’s Club out of the Fleming Mansion.
“As Christmas nears and people receive new furniture and appliances, perhaps they will wish to donate their used items to the Blessings from the Basement program,” Meighen said. “Perhaps the city council could promote this idea, place a note in a bill send or assist in ways we might not know about.”
Meighen credited the Woman’s Club and its president, Marcella Yaremchuk, with providing more than 100 people with household items and necessities that have been donated to the club or collected by its members. He said the organization is always looking for donations of furniture, appliances and money to ensure it can continue providing people with what they need.
“Our Blessings from the Basement program, started through our Homeless Coalition, that in the year 2020 served 105 people in either permanent housing or apartments,” Meighen said. “So far seven households have been settled in apartments or homes which involved four families.”
Meighen also credited the Union Mission and Scott Place Shelter with providing a safe haven for people throughout the year.
He also commemorated the one-year anniversary of the opening of Friendship Fairmont, which is housed in the Marion County Courthouse Annex. The nonprofit, which was launched by Morgantown-based Milan Puskar Health Right, provides shelter during the day, as well as addiction counseling from peer recovery coaches and volunteers.
“We have seen as many as 30 people a day,” said Rochelle Satterfield, program manager of Friendship Fairmont. “A lot of people are coming in to get warm from the cold, and we are seeing a lot of people just trying to meet their basic needs. That’s why we are having the Warm and Cozy drive, because they just need to get out of the cold.”
Satterfield referenced the organization’s “Feeling Warm and Cozy for the Holidays” drive, which is collecting coats, hats, gloves, blankets and other winter clothing items to give to people in need. She said the donated items will remove one additional worry to those on the path to recovery.
“We have already given out 15 coats thanks to the United Way and other community organizations,” Satterfield said. “There is such a need to have layers of clothing whenever the temperatures drop. When all you have is the items on your back and they get wet, that poses a risk for health.”
Satterfield said in the past year, Friendship Fairmont has provided not only shelter and counseling services to people in need, but case workers and volunteers have helped people go through processes from getting a driver’s license, buying clothing and furniture, getting a credit card and finding jobs. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, these processes have been more difficult.
“There is still a very high demand to help them with services right now where they don’t have a consistent address,” Satterfield said. “Also just where to call; what is open right now. A lot of services have changed their hours where they don’t allow you to just come.”
Satterfield said that while there was some initial trepidation from council members about the location of Friendship Fairmont, community support for the organization has been good since it began, and she is happy to be part of removing the stigma from issues of addiction and homelessness.
“I think the biggest impact is just the support from the community,” Satterfield said. “Helping Fairmont and the area get rid of the stigma of homelessness and addiction. I hope to be able to provide additional groups to the community and more volunteer opportunities.”