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MetroNews This Morning 7-13-20

Covid 19 infection rate is down in West Virginia–but the rate of spread is second highest in the nation–only bested by Montana. There are 1,329 active cases statewide. The virus has education leaders holding frank discussions about how to safely open school a month from today. Monongalia County has the highest number of active cases by far and Governor Justice could institute specialized regs there during today’s briefing. A shooting in Berkeley County from the weekend is under investigation along with an industrial accident in Marshall County. In Sports, Ethan Payne of Poca commits to Marshall to play his college football. Those stories and more in our MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 7-13-20” on Spreaker.

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Virus fatigue

There is a new strain of virus now in this pandemic.  It is Virus Fatigue and, like Covid-19 itself, there is no vaccine but there are plenty of coping mechanisms.

Yes, everyone is weary of the 24/7 news coverage, the travel and lifestyle restrictions, the constant reminders about wearing masks and keeping our social distance, the uncertainty of the future.

Some are taking their cues from President Trump and have secured themselves in the cocoon of obstinance, labeling anything they disagree with about the pandemic as “fake news.”  Finding reasons not to wear a mask or blame the media for hyping the virus is a thriving cottage industry.

I have had more arguments on the air, via text and through email with the never-maskers than I can count, and most have ended in a stalemate. I’m not going to change their minds and they are not going to change mine about the benefits of following consensus advice from health officials.

Oh well, it’s a free country (and, no, being asked or told to wear a mask in a public building does not rise to the level of an erosion of fundamental freedoms).

For everyone else, the pandemic is like being on a sailboat caught in a windstorm.  You batten down the hatches and hang on, but you don’t know how long the storm will last or whether you are going to get out of it unscathed.

That uncertainty is exhausting, thus the Virus Fatigue.

While the never-maskers are irritating, they are not the majority.  Look around and you see people being careful, businesses taking precautions, institutions like colleges and the public schools trying their hardest to figure out the best and safest way forward.

That is what leaders do. They gather information and set a practical course forward for the rest of us to follow.

And they count on people being resilient.  Routines are safe and predictable, but they get broken.  When they do, we either go to pieces or heed the advice of Robert Frost who said, “The only way out is through.”

The ‘through’ route can wear you down, but it eventually gets you to where you want to go, to where we want to go, which is to a place where the virus is no longer a serious threat to our health and our economic well-being.

Personally, I like our chances of getting the better of Covid-19, maybe even sooner than later. True, viruses are impressive from an evolutionary perspective.  They have found a way to survive and mutate over millions of years.

But they cannot survive without a host, which gives humans the upper hand. Our ability to take simple precautions and adjust our lives accordingly, while counting on intelligent and motivated researchers to come up with a vaccine will carry the day.

And in our ultimate display of empathy, we will do these things for the never-maskers, even if they refuse to do them for us.

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Covid case forces closure of Kanawha County circuit clerk’s office

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha County Circuit Clerk’s Office will be closed until Friday after an office worker tested positive for COVID-19.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Charles King entered an order Sunday night that says the office will be closed through business hours Thursday.

The employee who tested positive last worked July 2. The court was notified Sunday of the positive test.

Those who have had contact have been notified and urged to self-quarantine. Those who had direct contact are being offered testing.

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FCC in finals days of accepting auction applications for internet

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Federal Communications Commission has been accepting applications for the first phase of an auction to provide wireless internet services to rural communities across the country.

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction consists of two phases worth $20.4 billion, which will be given to providers over a decade. The agency will award up to $16 billion in the first phase, in which bidding will begin Oct. 29.

According to the FCC, more than 128,000 areas in West Virginia are eligible for rural development.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay

House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, called the auction a “big deal.”

“The reason it is a big deal is that providers have to step up and illustrate a capacity to guarantee their bids well in advance of the actual auction itself,” he said.

Hanshaw said economic development money has been used in communities nationwide to provide a backstop to internet service providers. He added installing wireless connectivity services is a more cost-effective solution than laying cable.

“Our population density is so sparse that the professionals believe that it’s going to be wireless solutions that are going to get us to the last mile,” he added.

Short-form applications are due by July 15.

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As W.Va. schools plan for reopening, many of the details are county-by-county

Although state officials are providing guidance about the reopening of West Virginia schools no sooner than Sept. 8, many of the details are being left to county leaders.

State Superintendent Clayton Burch

“We want to make things as flexible as possible for the district leadership. They know what they need, as long as we agree on a few things,” state Superintendent Clayton Burch told state school board members last week.

Those kinds of decisions could include whether to do five days a week in classrooms or blended learning where there are days or hours off-site.

More significant areas of local decisions include school calendars. The aim for most, even with the delay, is to avoid going late into the summer.

Burch discussed plans last week with all 55 county superintendents.

A largely decentralized approach is helpful because each county is under different circumstances, said Howard O’Cull, the executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association.

Some counties are more populated than others. Some more rural and others more urban. Access to broadband is uneven.

And the coronavirus situation is different from county to county, with hundreds of cases in some and very few in others.

“It is the way to go because it’s not a blanket situation,” O’Cull said. “More populous areas will have more per capita spikes, more per capita cases of coronavirus.

“It also varies in terms of transportation, technology, weather, all those factors. I think it’s a very wise move to say ‘These are the non-negotiables. These are the things you can do or should do, then you make the decision.’ It allows a county board to make a decision, based on the superintendent’s recommendation.”

But O’Cull objected to a federal, top-down approach.

“We’re hearing a lot of chatter from D.C. trying to enter the picture and all that. We would hope to God that doesn’t happen,” he said, contrasting that with the state’s approach so far.

“I think a good path’s been laid out here. It’s in this sort of instance that we don’t normally see the higher level policymakers in our state simply say ‘These are guidelines. You put them in effect based on what you think is good for your community based on input from citizens.’ So I think it’s  a very wise move.”

Speaking on multiple national news programs this morning, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos acknowledged there will have to be some flexibility at the local level but that the expectation from the Trump Administration is that schools will be open.

“What we’re saying is that kids need to be back in school and that school leaders across the country need to be making plans to do just that,” DeVos said on CNN’s State of the Union.

“There’s going to be exceptions to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall. Where there are little flareups or hotspots, that can be dealt with on a school by school or a case by case basis. There’s ample opportunity to have kids in school. There’s multiple counties across the country that have no cases.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calls on schools to reopen despite CDC guidelines that say children meeting in groups can put everyone at risk: “There is going to be the exception to the rule. But the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/XDwaFdjLCX

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 12, 2020

In West Virginia, County superintendents are thankful for additional preparation time after an announced delay.

Kathy Hypes

“We will use the extra two weeks on making sure our children are safe and healthy when they return, along with our employees,” said Kathy Hypes, the Braxton County superintendent.

She acknowledged the year will bring heightened duties such as the necessity of disinfecting school buses.

“We’re looking at all of our procedures and protocols on sanitizing, disinfecting, looking at the social distancing of children and following some of the CDC guidelines,” she said.

Ryan Saxe

In Cabell County, Superintendent Ryan Saxe agreed the additional time is necessary. He said plans were already under way but still need to be developed.

“We are ready to make changes to the plans we were starting to establish for re-entry in the fall so we can start on Sept. 8,” he said.

Some activities that had been routine will become bigger challenges this year, Saxe acknowledged.

“Cafeterias and delivering lunches in the middle of the day,” he said. “The start-of-school activities — so when students arrive, what are the protocols there to make sure we’re maintaining social distancing. And, of course, just making sure we’re able to adhere to as much of the social distancing guidelines in classrooms as well.”

.@CabellSuperSaxe and @BraxtonSchools Superintendent Kathy Hypes join @HoppyKercheval to discuss the delayed start of the school year. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/hBUvwS89EF

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 9, 2020

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Kanawha police still looking for man after video lottery parlor robbery

DUNBAR, W.Va. — Kanawha County deputies are looking for a man who is considered as a person of interest in a Sunday morning video lottery parlor robbery and carjacking.

Deputies and other law enforcement spent most of Sunday looking for Timothy Lee Walding, Jr., 40, of St. Albans.

The robbery was originally reported at about 2 a.m. Sunday at a Hot Spot on West Washington Street near Dunbar. Deputies arrived on the scene and saw a man near a car in the parking lot. He got in the car and the driver took off. A chase followed that went through Cross Lanes, Nitro and back to Dunbar where spike strips flattened the cars tires. The man took off and police arrested the driver identified as Amanda Taylor, 43, of St. Albans.

Amanda Taylor

Walding was spotted in the Sissonville area at about 7 a.m. He fled in a vehicle that later crashed. Walding ran from the scene. Deputies said he was armed.

A helicopter was used in Sunday’s search but Walding was not found. He’s currently charged with fleeing from an officer. He’s a person of interest in the robbery and a car jacking that happened in Dunbar and the original pursuit.

Taylor is charged with four counts of armed robbery, accessory before the fact and fleeing. She’s in the South Central Regional Jail on $100,000 bail.

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State Parks rebound after difficult start to the season

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Despite a slow start to the season for the West Virginia State Parks, the summer has picked up nicely in the last couple of weeks.

“We have had a very successful entry into summer, particularity as we went into the last week of June and first week of July,” said State Parks Chief Brad Reed.

“We’ve been very busy, particularly our camping and cabins as well as our day use facilities,” he said.

Initially when the Covid 19 pandemic broke out, State Park facilities were closed although the parks themselves remained opened. Governor Jim Justice’s reopening plan included State Park cabins and campsites initially for West Virginia residents only. The lodges were eventually added to that list and in later days out-of-state guests were welcomed back. However, Reed said the climate of things at the moment is making for a much larger number of in-state visitors.

“We have the 30 percent discount going for our in-state residents. That’s been very successful and it has moved the marker toward probably serving way more resident customers and guests than we normally do,” Reed explained.

Parks are following the guidelines of the C-D-C and state health officials in all facilities. Deep cleaning, hygiene, and social distancing are being practiced at all locations. The additional cleaning has made for more work on Parks’ staff, but Reed said they were getting the job done.

“We have pretty much all of our facilities open, but we’re not at full capacity. We have social distancing guidelines at things like meeting rooms, swimming pools, and anywhere people might congregate in a group we have to be extra careful,” he said.

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Mixed numbers in COVID-19 Sunday evening report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state’s daily positive test rate for COVID-19 decreased by more than two percent Sunday while hospitalizations associated with the virus increased.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources listed the daily positive test rate Sunday at 2.07 percent. It was 4.22 Saturday. There were 4,568 tests added this weekend.

There are now 1,329 active cases and 2,819 recovered cases since the pandemic began. There were 523 positive cases added this week, the largest one week jump. There were 93 cases added Sunday.

The DHHR said Sunday evening there are now 62 people hospitalized in West Virginia with COVID-19, the highest number since April.

The agency said 22 of those patients are being treated in intensive care and eight are on ventilators. It’s the highest ICU beds since May 4.  Deaths related to the virus remain at 96.

.@WV_DHHR reports as of 5:00 p.m., on July 12, 2020, there have been 207,595 total confirmatory laboratory results received for #COVID19, with 4,244 total cases and 96 deaths. #SaferAtHomeWVhttps://t.co/LFfvjM34gX pic.twitter.com/DJy3Pco9yr

— WV DHHR (@WV_DHHR) July 12, 2020

Monongalia County has seen the largest jump of active cases since July 1. The county added 12 more cases Sunday.

Gov. Jim Justice

There were 351 new positive cases between July 1-10 in Monongalia County. The health department said the large majority, 265, were positive cases involving residents between the ages of 18-29.

Gov. Jim Justice may announce a return to several restrictions for the county during his media briefing set for Monday at 12:30 p.m. Justice said Friday he was watching the Monongalia County numbers closely. He said he was considering closing bars and pulling back provisions that allow 50 percent capacity indoor dining at restaurants.

#wvmchd #covid19 #stats
📈📈📈📈📈📈📈📈📈 pic.twitter.com/anMrVnvINM

— Mon Co. Health Dept (@WVMCHD) July 12, 2020

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department reported a 37 positive case rise between Friday and Sunday evening. The state’s largest county now has 95 active cases.

Dr. Sherri Young

“This is an alarming trend that we’re monitoring very closely,” KCHD Executive Director Dr. Sherri Young said. “We encourage everyone to come out and get tested at our next testing event from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday at Capital High School. Stay at home if you can. If you go out, remember to stay six feet away from other people, wear a mask and frequently wash your hands.”

Total confirmed cases per county include:

(Case confirmed by lab test/Probable case): Barbour (19/0), Berkeley (514/19), Boone (33/0), Braxton (5/0), Brooke (26/1), Cabell (193/7), Calhoun (4/0), Clay (12/0), Fayette (81/0), Gilmer (13/0), Grant (19/1), Greenbrier (71/0), Hampshire (42/0), Hancock (39/3), Hardy (46/1), Harrison (122/0), Jackson (148/0), Jefferson (251/5), Kanawha (409/12), Lewis (23/1), Lincoln (9/0), Logan (40/0), Marion (108/3), Marshall (64/1), Mason (24/0), McDowell (8/0), Mercer (62/0), Mineral (66/2), Mingo (30/2), Monongalia (525/14), Monroe (14/1), Morgan (19/1), Nicholas (20/1), Ohio (148/0), Pendleton (15/1), Pleasants (4/1), Pocahontas (36/1), Preston (81/19), Putnam (88/1), Raleigh (77/3), Randolph (187/2), Ritchie (2/0), Roane (12/0), Summers (2/0), Taylor (22/1), Tucker (6/0), Tyler (10/0), Upshur (30/2), Wayne (123/1), Webster (1/0), Wetzel (36/0), Wirt (6/0), Wood (176/9), Wyoming (7/0).

 

 

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W.Va. Attorney General and challenger weigh in on mask order and emergency powers

As the state’s top legal officer, the Attorney General often has an advisory role for issues such as the governor’s emergency powers.

Incumbent Attorney General Patrick Morrisey discussed his view of Gov. Jim Justice’s ongoing use of emergency powers to handle the coronavirus pandemic, during a recent appearance on “Panhandle Live” on WEPM Radio. Morrisey also discussed this week’s mandate for West Virginians to wear face coverings, which was issued under the emergency powers.

In a separate telephone interview, Morrisey’s opponent for the upcoming election, Democrat Sam Petsonk, also discussed when and how those powers are invoked.

Morrisey has been publicly involved several times already in shaping how the emergency powers have been used during West Virginia’s response to the pandemic.

When West Virginia delayed its primary election by a month, Morrisey issued an opinion citing state code once the governor has declared a State of Emergency, which went into effect because of the coronavirus on March 16.

In April, when the governor cited emergency powers in halting elective medical procedures, Morrisey spoke up at a regular briefing to conclude the order would apply to abortions.

Executive power

As the state’s pandemic response has gone on, though, some West Virginia citizens and lawmakers have questioned the extent of the powers and how long they are intended to go on. Justice has spoken about needing to react until medical science has settled on a vaccine or treatment.

The governor’s executive orders — and there have been 50 of them now — typically cite Chapter 15, Article 5, Section 6 of state code, which includes the authority “to control ingress and egress to and from a disaster area, the movement of persons within the area and the occupancy of premises therein.”

That would last until “the proclamation of the termination thereof by the Governor, or the passage by the Legislature of a concurrent resolution terminating such emergency.”

Justice brushed off a question on Friday about whether the Legislature should be called in to oversee the allocation of $1.25 billion in federal relief, saying that would result in a “soapbox show” and a “political nightmare.”

Gov. Jim Justice

The federal spending issue is not a matter of the governor’s emergency powers, but it is part of a related question about his authority.

Justice and his staff have said Congress intended for chief executives to oversee the relief spending and that the budget passed by lawmakers has boilerplate language allowing the executive branch to direct federal grants.

Although state representatives in many other states have helped direct spending, Justice’s administration has described relying on guidance from the Bailey & Glasser law firm from Charleston and  BDO which is Binder Dijker Otte, an international accounting and tax advisory network.

Justice said he welcomes discussion about the decisions he makes, but then said he doesn’t have time, citing the state health emergency.

“If anyone can find a fallacy with what I’m doing, I’d welcome it and welcome it tomorrow,” the governor said, then adding “I’ve got a lot to do here.”

Marshall Wilson

Five state lawmakers, including Delegate Marshall Wilson, I-Berkeley, who is running independently for governor this fall, challenged the governor’s use of emergency powers in a filing with the state Supreme Court. The thrust of the legal challenge is that Justice should have been involving the Legislature.

The writ alleges, “West Virginia’s governor is currently ruling the state by executive fiat and is drastically expanding the power of the executive branch.”

After this week’s mask order, Wilson issued a statement contending the governor’s actions violate the Constitution.

“Even if such ’emergency’ authority were available to the Chief Executive, he certainly would hold no authority to extend indefinitely his dictatorial rule over the People of West Virginia in the absence of their guidance via their duly elected representatives in the Legislature,” Wilson stated.

Guidance from the Attorney General

Morrisey was asked on “Panhandle Live” whether his office was consulted on the mask order, the latest example of the governor’s use of emergency powers. He did not respond in terms of legal guidance but instead discussed whether face coverings are effective.

“Rather than go through the consultation part, I would say this: First, I’ve looked at a lot of the clinical literature relating to masks and certain types of masks seem to actually have some efficacy,” Morrisey said.

Specifying N95 masks, in particular, Morrisey said, “they do seem to be effective in reducing the spread of contagion because it minimizes the droplets, so I think that’s a good thing.”

But, “other types of masks, that’s a separate question,” he added. The governor’s order applied to face coverings meant to be cloth.

“I would encourage people to wear the masks that are going to help them reduce the contagion,” he said.

As a legal matter, he said, “If there are issues or questions — and people are entitled not only to their perspectives but to their constitutional rights — so if there are people with questions they can call our office. I do think when you’re doing things like this you want to be very sensitive to people’s First Amendment rights or expressive rights.

“So obviously encouragement, in my mind, is the appropriate approach.”

Morrisey also addressed how long the governor’s emergency powers may last. He noted that a preparedness declaration has a shelf life of 30 days. But an emergency declaration may go on much longer.

“In terms of the public emergency, the Legislature did not put any cap on that,” Morrisey said.

“I think the governor has done a lot of positive things during this pandemic. But I think people do legitimately say ‘What’s the right role? Should there be a time limit on emergencies? Should there be other consultation that’s required when you have an emergency? What’s the trigger when you actually call the Legislature back?'”

He predicted a vigorous legislative discussion over the terms of any emergency executive authority.

“I would argue West Virginia should revisit some of its authority,” he said. “I think that’s a debate the Legislature’s going to have.”

The challenger’s view

Petsonk, in a telephone interview, a lawyer in Beckley who has focused on labor issues, also spoke about the Attorney General’s role in providing guidance about legal issues such as the governor’s emergency powers.

He indicated the state’s top lawyer should only go so far with his own perspective.

“Merciful heavens, we don’t need a lawyer telling a politician how to overrule a panel of top scientists on how to protect the public health. Talk about too many cooks in the kitchen. That is not the role of the Attorney General,” he said.

However, he said, the Attorney General should be prepared to interpret state laws.

“What is the role of the Attorney General? To interpret our statutes, our laws and to look out for our fundamental constitutional rights — our religious freedom, freedom of expression, the right to address our legislators and observe the affairs of government and, of course, the right to an equitable, thorough, efficient and free public education.”

Over the past few months, the governor has used the emergency powers to order citizens to stay home unless it’s necessary to go out, to keep businesses closed unless they are deemed essential and now to wear face coverings when they’re in public.

“Each of these issues needs to be scrutinized, but, of course, broadly speaking the governor has expansive powers,” Petsonk said. “In fact, in West Virginia we have always embraced a strong executive framework.”

Disputes over the balance of power could be settled by the courts, but the Attorney General could weigh in with guidance.

“It’s not for the Attorney General to make a final determination as to the constitutionality of any particular measure but rather to assess the overall balance of power and the competing values in our Constitution, in our statutes and advise the governor about the best way to balance those rules in protecting the public interest,” Petsonk said.

Petsonk is particularly focused on oversight of federal relief dollars as they flow through the state and to local governments.

“Namely, during and after a disaster or emergency, our county and municipal governments can claim reimbursement from a variety of federal programs to recover monies that offset the local, out-of-pocket emergency expenditures,” Petsonk said.

“But they must keep scrupulous records in order to do so. The Attorney General should ensure adequate guidance for documenting those local expenditures so that we don’t forfeit our ability to recover those losses through federal reimbursement.”

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Kennedy Award winner Ethan Payne bound for Marshall

(Citynet Statewide Sportsline interview with Ethan Payne)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — 2019 Kennedy Award winner Ethan Payne is headed west on I-64 to Marshall University. The rising senior running back and defensive back verbally committed to join the Herd Sunday afternoon.

“Marshall has always been at the top of my list,” Payne said. “It is close to home and they really made me feel welcome.”

Payne broke the 41-year-old record for points scored in a regular season (276 points). He rushed for 2,845 yards and 49 touchdowns in twelve games, leading the Dots to an 11-1 record and a spot in the Class AA quarterfinals. Despite some eye-popping stats, Payne says he is never surprised when he sees a postgame stat sheet.

“To be honest, I count my yards in my head throughout the game. If I want to get a 300-yard game, I’ll say, ‘Hey coach, I need 60 yards to cap off 300.”

100% committed 🟢⚪ @CoachG_Adkins @DOCMUFB @CalebFavino pic.twitter.com/cIbnetdeCg

— Ethan Payne (@epayne414) July 12, 2020

Ethan’s younger brother Toby, a rising junior, also holds a scholarship offer from Marshall.

“I wouldn’t mind playing with my brother at Marshall. But it is his life and his decision. I’m not going to pressure him into it.”

Poca has resumed offseason workouts after a long delay due to the pandemic. They are scheduled to open the regular season pn September 4 at Chapmanville.

“It has been tough. You are used to seeing those faces everyday, going to practice and working out. It is just not the same working out without them or not working out for an long period of time. It was good to be back this summer.”

The Dots have posted a 20-3 record in the last two seasons and should be one of the favorites to compete for the Class AA state championship this fall.

“State title or nothing. That’s our goal this year. If we come in with anything short of a state championship, we did not reach our goal.”

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