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Mon Health, Fairmont State announce new nursing partnership

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Mon Health Systems and Fairmont State University on Thursday announced a new partnership providing nursing students scholarships as well as jobs after graduation.

The Fairmont State to Mon Health System Partnership will include allowing nursing students at Fairmont State University opportunities to fulfill most of the clinical rotations and guaranteed employment with the health care system upon graduation.

The scholarship portion of the program includes financial assistance for tuition and textbooks.

“Students pursuing nursing degrees in the north-central West Virginia region have the greatest opportunities right in their own backyard,” David Goldberg, Mon Health Systems’ president and CEO, said of the program.

Dr. Krystal Atkinson, chief nursing executive with Mon Health Systems, said the program also takes the pressure off of students about student loans and finding a job.

“We’ve got great talent here, and we want to be able to keep that talent locally,” she said. “Our communities are the benefactors of the great skill we have in the nursing program.”

Fairmont State University President Mirta Martin described the partnership as a “true win-win arrangement.”

“This partnership will have a huge impact beyond our campus,” she said. “It benefits the region and strengthens our talent pipeline, keeping our extraordinary home-grown talent living and working in our communities.”

Fairmont State University’s School of Nursing requires students interested in the program to complete the school’s regular admissions process. Students will receive information after being accepted in the school.

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Manchin touring Postal Service sites on Friday

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has scheduled tours of U.S. Postal Service locations in West Virginia as questions loom surrounding mail services.

A review of offices in Fairmont’s East Side neighborhood, Parkersburg and Beckley is underway, and officials are also considering reducing hours at other locations in the state.

Questions also linger in light of U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issuing a directive suggesting systemic changes, which could save the Postal Service around $200 million.

Sinikka Melvin, the president of the Clarksburg’s American Postal Workers Union chapter, said the postal service is already dealing with delays because of the “End of Day Sortation” program, which is aimed at decreasing overtime costs.

“Morgantown and Fairmont are testing out a pilot program where the carriers are allowed to deliver their parcels immediately that day,” she told MetroNews affiliate WAJR-AM. “However, they come back at the end of the day and sort the letters we received overnight, and they go out the following day.”

Manchin has written to DeJoy opposing cuts to the Postal Service as well as sponsored legislation to prevent the closure of any facility that opened before Jan. 27, 2020.

Melvin said there has to be a balance between serving the public and reducing postal employee workload.

“Not only do we need people to speak to their representatives and congressmen to stop them from curtailing hours and closing post offices,” Melvin said, “but we need the mail to get where it’s supposed to go on time and where it should be.”

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Concord BoG approves institution’s re-entry plan

ATHENS, W.Va. — The Concord University Board of Governors approved the institution’s “Return to Campus Plan” on Thursday.

Concord begins the fall semester on Monday, August 17 and now has a solidified plan in place that includes face coverings required in all university buildings and campus properties as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The plan further states that maintaining social distancing in a classroom setting does not change the requirement for wearing face coverings.

“There’s a place in the code that talks about the disruption of class. For example, if a student refuses to wear a mask in class, they could be written up on that rule,”  Concord VP of Student Affairs & Dean of Students Sarah Beasley said during the meeting.

All students will receive a COVID-19 safety packet containing a reusable face mask, hand sanitizer, and other items, according to Concord. Students who cannot wear face coverings should provide documentation from a physician, therapist or other appropriate professional to the Office of Disability Services.

Residential students can pick up their packet when they check in to their residence halls. Commuter students may pick up a packet anytime during the first week of classes from 8 am-4 pm in the Student Center Welcome Center and the Commuter Lounge located on the ground floor of the Student Center.

They may also pick them up on Monday, August 17 from 7:30 am – 8:30 am and Tuesday, August 18 from 9:00 am – 10:00 am in the commuter parking lots on Vermillion Street and near the football stadium, according to Concord.

VIEW: Concord’s rules for students

Concord is asking all students to complete a daily self-check for COVID-19 symptoms and said no student should report to class who has a temperature of 100.4°F and above or has any of the symptoms related to COVID-19.

Concord’s BoG also approved resuming in-person instruction and the Pandemic Illness Emergency Operations Plan.

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MEC postpones fall sports to spring semester

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — The Mountain East Conference Board of Directors has decided to postpone all fall sports seasons to the spring semester in 2021. It was one of several board resolutions following last week’s announcement from the NCAA Board of Governors regarding additional requirements and the cancellation of 2020 NCAA Division II Fall Championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board also approved a reduced schedule model for fall sports that will shift to spring 2021 (football, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s cross country), that includes a conference championship, without participants exhausting a year of eligibility utilizing the legislative relief provided to NCAA Division II institutions for the 2020-21 season. Conference championships will be awarded even though no NCAA championships will take place.

“We still have to work through the dates and we still have to work through the logistics of trying to play all our fall sports when we would normally play our winter and spring sports,” said MEC Commissioner Reid Amos. “At the Division II level, we have some human resources limitations. We have small staffs. So we have to find a way to conduct these sports in a very compressed period of time.”

.@MEC_Commish talks to @TonyCaridi, @BradHowe07 and @HunterWvu88bgn about the postponement of @TheMountainEast fall sports. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) August 13, 2020

Additionally, the board approved several other recommendations from the league’s Committee of Athletics Administrators:

• Suspend competition for winter sports until no earlier than November 1, 2020.

• Suspend all competition in all sports indefinitely, with MEC board review by no later than Oct. 15, 2020.

• Suspend the indoor track and field championship for the 2020-21 season.

• All countable athletically-related activities (CARA), excluding the restrictions regarding outside competition, for all MEC sports are permissible (as allowed under NCAA rules and Board of Governors requirements) at the discretion of each MEC member institution.

Under these recommendations, it could be possible for the men’s and women’s basketball seasons to begin on time in November.

The MEC held out hope that the fall sport seasons could be played after a delayed start. But that option was effectively taken away under recent NCAA guidance.

“Ten of our institutions are in West Virginia and West Virginia is one of the least impacted areas in the country in regards to the spread of COVID-19. Frostburg State is in western Maryland and that county is not as impacted as many areas in the country. We felt very confident with our plans that we developed after days after days of meetings.

“But at the point that the NCAA Board of Governors turned the NCAA Sport Science guidelines into requirements six days ago, we were then subject to the same guidelines meant to comprise all fifty states. We are now being treated in the same fashion as Florida is being treated.”

The Mountain East has traditionally conducted its men’s and women’s golf conference championship in the fall, but the sport is classified by the NCAA as a spring sport, and thus will have a delayed conference championship in addition to NCAA postseason opportunities in the spring semester.

“I pledged to our board, administrators, athletics staffs, and most importantly to our student-athletes that we would exhaust every opportunity to stage competition this fall, and I am confident that is collectively what we have done within the MEC,” Amos said. “Present public health challenges, combined with the new mandates put forth by the NCAA last week, create too great of a challenge on too short of a timeline to be able to conduct meaningful competition for our fall sports.

“We are tremendously disappointed for our student-athletes, and we recognize the gravity that comes with these decisions,” Amos continued. “We now turn our efforts to keeping our student-athletes engaged with their coaches and teammates this fall, continuing to develop our return to play protocols, creating new schedules for delayed sports, and preparing for our 21 championship events now slated for the winter and spring. We will continue our commitment to providing a meaningful athletics experience for all of our student-athletes and crowning MEC champions during the 2020-21 academic year.”

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Cleared for takeoff: Marshall University breaks ground for flight school at Yeager Airport

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School is officially cleared for takeoff.

Officials with Marshall, Yeager Airport and public leaders broke ground for the school on Thursday at the airport that is expected to enroll more than 200 students when it begins in August 2021.

Marshall and Yeager Airport began the process of considering a flight school in May 2018 when the airport’s board signed a memorandum of understanding with Marshall on the possibility of starting it.

More than two years later, Marshall President Dr. Jerome Gilbert said Thursday is a special day for the entire community.

Jerome Gilbert

“I knew this day was coming but to actually be here and think about the reality of it is really fantastic,” Gilbert told MetroNews.

Gilbert said the school will offer a four-year bachelor’s degree that will result in a commercial aviation pilot of single and multi-engine aircraft. There are also planned courses at Marshall’s South Charleston campus for those interested in airline dispatching, operations and managing and will lead to a series of FAA certifications.

In February, Marshall purchased three airplanes including two Cirrus SR-20 valued at $500,000 each and a single-engine used plane with cable controls with a price tag of up to $175,000.

“This is going to be transformative for Marshall. We think it’s going to add a dimension,” Gilbert said.

“We are also doing a program at the Tri-State Airport in Huntington. Between these two programs, we feel like we are going to spur economic development in Southern West Virginia.”

The first build of the $4.5 million in construction will be a 10,500-square-foot classroom building and a 12,000-square-foot hangar close to the general aviation area at the airport. Yeager has already built a GA roadway that will lead the way to the school.

Nick Keller, the Yeager Airport Director told MetroNews it’s incredible they can move forward with the flight school during the pandemic. He said there have been no delays in planning and construction.

“Given the COVID-19 pandemic, there were obvious concerns about whether the project would be slowed down. Thankfully, Marshall decided to continue with their investment and move forward. I think it positions West Virginia really well for when the pandemic ends,” Keller said.

We have officially broken ground on the Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School. We could not be more excited about the future of this program. Thank you to everyone who came out this morning!

— Yeager Airport (@YeagerAirport) August 13, 2020

Keller, Gilbert and other officials met in August 2019 at the airport for another step in the project, a compact signing and ribbon cutting for an aerospace industry partnership with the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) and West Virginia Department of Commerce.

During July’s airport board meeting, Keller discussed to the board the opportunity to proceed with the partnership with the WVDE and Kanawha County Schools to potentially create a pipeline of students in aviation education.

Nick Keller

“Our vision is to be the most important economic engine for the state of West Virginia through advances in aviation and education,” Keller said. “This fulfills the education component of the vision because now we have a school that can help train students and helps make a workforce ready for aviation jobs.”

Gilbert said with the partnership he expects to draw plenty of students from West Virginia but also the country.

“We have a lot of students that are in West Virginia studying the aviation sciences so I think there are going to be a lot of students from West Virginia that will be naturally interested in this program,” Gilbert told MetroNews.

“But we expect to draw nationally for this program. It will be a premiere program, we expect it to be one of the top programs in the country.”

Gilbert spoke in front of the socially distanced crowd on Thursday along with Keller, Airport Board Chairman Ed Hill, Gov. Jim Justice, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, and representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), U.S. Congressman Alex Mooney (R, W.Va.) and U.S. Congresswoman Carol Miller (R-W.Va.).

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National Guard leader named to DHHR post
Brigadier General Russell Crane

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A high ranking member of the West Virginia National Guard has now been placed into a position of power at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Secretary Bill Crouch announced the appointment of Brigadier General Russell Crane as the Deputy Secretary of the DHHR.

Crane has most recently served as the Assistant Adjutant General of the National Guard and as Deputy Commanding General, Training Support Division, First United States Army. Major General James Hoyer, the sate’s Adjutant General, assigned Crane to assist Crouch as part of the Guard’s response to the Covid 19 pandemic which started in March.

“I greatly appreciate Major General Hoyer for loaning Russ to DHHR to serve as a key advisor during this public health crisis,” said Secretary Crouch in the release announcing the appointment. “With General Crane’s deployment to Africa, Afghanistan, and Europe, as well as his service to the United States and his home state of West Virginia, he brings a plethora of experience, enthusiasm and strong leadership and management expertise to the table, especially during this worldwide pandemic of COVID-19.”

Crane has a criminal justice degree from Marshall University and was commissioned from the ROTC program in 1987. He holds a masters degree in strategic leadership from Mountain State University and a masters degree in strategic studies from the Army’s War College.

“I look forward to continuing my service to West Virginia as part of this tremendous organization under Secretary Crouch’s leadership,” said Crane.

Crane joins Jeremiah Samples who has served as a deputy secretary to Crouch since 2017.

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Summers County middle and high school student to share building

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Board of Education has cleared the way for students from Summers County Middle School to attend school this coming year at Summers County High School. Summers County Superintendent David Warvel addressed members of the State Board this week about a myriad of problems at the old school in downtown Hinton.

“As it continues to rain and snow, it will seep through the roof of the building and we’ll have another asbestos problem. We also have some other issues in the building. There is some mold in there and there are some smells that are due to not so good ventilation throughout the building,” Warvel said.

Warvel became the Superintendent on July 1st and said he took a tour of the building on July 2nd with the President of the Summers County Board of Education and others, including state Board of Education member Dave Perry.

“That is a deplorable building. The mold, the leaking roof, the asbestos and it’s totally unsanitary,” Perry told fellow board members.

The old building is not A-D-A compliant and students are forced to go outside of the building and back inside to reach the cafeteria.

“As a parent, not a Superintendent, if I don’t want my own children in that building why would I want somebody else’s children in that building,” Warvel said.

Summers County High School

Warvel’s solution is to move children from the middle school, about 375 to the high school where there are about 444 students. School administrators have worked out the logistics of separating the building to provide adequate division among the wide span of grades and ages, but also to accommodate social distancing which will be a requirement for this coming school year.

The middle school is the former Hinton High School which was converted when Summers County High School was built 25 years ago. For now, the middle school building is not closed and an evaluation for the cost of repairs is being evaluated. Warvel and others have looked at the building and think the repairs may be more costly than they are worth to save the aging structure.

The state Board voted to give the county the green light to move the middle school children into the high school until a more permanent arrangement can be made and public hearings can be staged to consider the next step.

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Fall sport practices open Monday, if state metrics allow

(MetroNews Talkline interview with WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monday, August 17 is the start date for official preseason practices in all WVSSAC-sponsored fall high school sports. All counties however must clear one more hurdle before taking the field, court or cross country/golf course.

Before extracurricular activities can begin, individual counties must be given the ‘green light’ to do so. That clearance will come through metrics from Governor Jim Justice that have not yet been released. It is possible that those metrics, which measure a counties’ status with COVID-19 infections, may be released Friday.

“The plan is for fall sports to go ahead,” WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan said Thursday on MetroNews Talkline. “We are waiting on the metrics for that plan to decide. It is going to be the same plan that decides if we are going to have school open in your county or not. It is also going to have a factor into whether or not you are able to have athletics.

“We know that there is a possibility that there may be some counties who don’t meet the metrics and will have to wait until their numbers improve before they get to participate. We want kids to participate but we want them to participate safely. This metric is going to measure what the density of the (COVID) infection is in your community.”

Dolan and his staff oversee all aspects of high school sports administration in West Virginia. After a spike in cases throughout West Virginia in early July, WV’s R-naught value, which shows rate of COVID spread, is tied for the eighth-lowest in the nation at 0.92.

“I think West Virginia has done an incredible job. We had a little blip in July when everybody went on vacation. But I think people have worked very hard to try to keep our numbers. We are the envy of everyone around us. But any day, we have shown that they could spike and cause problems in your community.

“It should drive the community to say we want (activities). We want to attend so we want our numbers better.”

Voluntary strength and conditioning workouts and sport-specific activities have been underway for many schools since early June. Some teams have had to temporarily pause practices due to COVID cases.

“We learned that coaches and administrators can do it responsibly. I think they have shown over a ten-week period — we had four weeks of just conditioning, our ‘three-week’ window and a couple weeks getting us to August 17th. But even with all the safety precautions they took, there were a few hiccups along the way. The counties and the health departments followed protocol and dealt with those.”

Dolan is hopeful that those in extracurricular activities can continue to lead the way in their respective communities by illustrating the best possible health practices.

“They are the leaders of the school. By them being good role models, it transfers to not only the community of the school, but also the bigger community around them. If they see you walking into Wal-Mart and you have your mask on, and they recognize you as a player or a coach and you are following the guidelines and walking the walk, then they would be like, ‘Maybe we should. Maybe it is important’. Our teams and our clubs certainly have a big role.”

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Teachers union urges West Virginia districts to start school year with distance learning

Based on a survey of its members, the West Virginia Education Association is asking districts to start this year with distance learning until it’s more certain schools can adhere to precautions meant to suppress the spread of coronavirus.

“Based upon that, the WVEA and its members are urging school districts to err on the side of caution and begin the school year with distance learning,” teachers union president Dale Lee said today during a virtual press conference that also streamed on social media.

Lee left open what would happen if districts don’t comply with the request.

“We will deal with those answers and work with our locals’ members in each of those districts to determine what action they want to take,” Lee said.

Asked for a timeline that he’d recommend distance learning, Lee cited at least the first grading period.

“I think it is fluid, and we’re going to have to continue to revisit it periodically,” Lee said.

WVEA based its position on a survey of members conducted between July 21 and July 30. Lee said it had only a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent.

Among the key findings, Lee said:

“Although nearly all members report concern about learning loss, most want a delayed reopening.”

“Most feel uncomfortable returning to school under their counties’ plans.”

“The situation with the virus continues to be fluid, and no one can predict what will happen a few days from now let alone a few weeks or months from now,” Lee said. “That uncertainty is part of the problem. People need to make plans, and it’s difficult to do that with such a fluid situation.”

Governor Justice

Gov. Jim Justice has said he would like for schools to reopen by Sept. 8 and, although he favors in-class learning, he has described the need to be careful about the health of students, teachers and staff.

During his most recent briefing, the governor said key decisions will be made at the local level.

“Local control should rule, and that is what we’re going to do,” Justice said. “Local input is going to rule the day.”

School systems around the state have been producing plans for students to return at a target date Sept. 8. Most are offering options to families, who must choose.

State Superintendent Clayton Burch

During a Wednesday state school board meeting, Superintendent Clayton Burch cautioned against starting the year with classrooms closed.

“We continue to hear ‘Why don’t we just start the year with remote learning?’” Burch said. He concluded, “This idea of closing schools and resorting to remote learning is a big, big mistake.”

Because different communities have different resources, including access to high-speed internet, starting the school year from home would result in disparities.

“We just don’t have the means for every child to participate virtually right now,” Burch said.

WVEA’s position was aimed toward local school districts, and Lee said it had not yet been conveyed to Justice, Burch and other state officials.

“I would think they are going to hear about this rather quickly from you guys in the media and we will reach out to them and make the request formally,” he said.

Lee and the union contended that starting the school year off-site would provide more time to learn more about the spread of covid-19.

“Distance learning will give time for counties to get a handle on the situation and to further iron out the details of how school entry will be handled in each situation,” Lee said.

He added, “Starting before we are truly prepared will simply force shutdowns and create additional anxiety and uncertainty.”

When asked what guidelines should be more specific, Lee referred to greater specifics on students and teachers wearing masks, on social distancing in classrooms and better clarity on how buses would run.

“We want to see about the social distancing, we want to see the transportation measures they have in place and how you have the distancing there,” Lee said.

“They may have few cases now but if we’re not following all the CDC guidelines with social distancing, the handwashing, the things the health experts say you have to have in place to stop the spread, it could very easily be another outbreak.”

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Dozens of new COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths reported in latest DHHR data

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than 140 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in West Virginia, but no additional deaths were reported in the Thursday morning coronavirus report from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

At that time, cases dating back to March totaled 8,151 with 153 deaths.

For active cases, the number was 1,952 statewide.

Hospitalizations had dropped a bit to 128 with 46 people said to be intensive care.

West Virginia’s daily infection rate was up to 3.51 percent. The cumulative rate was 2.4 percent.

DHHR CASES PER COUNTY: Barbour (29), Berkeley (720), Boone (112), Braxton (8), Brooke (70), Cabell (431), Calhoun (6), Clay (18), Doddridge (6), Fayette (160), Gilmer (17), Grant (131), Greenbrier (92), Hampshire (84), Hancock (112), Hardy (62), Harrison (238), Jackson (165), Jefferson (302), Kanawha (1,020), Lewis (28), Lincoln (96), Logan (276), Marion (195), Marshall (130), Mason (67), McDowell (62), Mercer (216), Mineral (125), Mingo (195), Monongalia (962), Monroe (20), Morgan (31), Nicholas (39), Ohio (271), Pendleton (42), Pleasants (14), Pocahontas (42), Preston (125), Putnam (204), Raleigh (276), Randolph (212), Ritchie (3), Roane (19), Summers (16), Taylor (60), Tucker (11), Tyler (15), Upshur (38), Wayne (214), Webster (4), Wetzel (44), Wirt (7), Wood (266), Wyoming (43).

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