The Voice of West Virginia
An outbreak of Covid 19 in a Wayne County nursing home. An eastern panhandle health leader says we’re doing a poor job with our social distancing. Unemployment claims are starting to be processed faster. An executive order limits us to one per golf cart. In Sports, Fairmont’s David Carpenter visits with Metronews to talk about his amazing baseball career. Those stories and more in today’s episode.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — During one of the holiest weeks of the year, faithful around the state are going to the services in a different way than normal.
In the span of a few weeks marks Passover, the Christian celebration of Easter and Holy Week and the Orthodox celebration of Easter. All of those services will be forced to be celebrated virtually as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (DWC) Bishop Mark Brennan appeared on a recent episode of MetroNews ‘Talkline’ and it’s a tough time for faith leaders and faith goers around the world.
“To not be able to gather together for these wonderful celebrations of our faith, which we see larger numbers than ever at this time of year, that’s real suffering,” he said. “We are in Lent so this is a penance we are all asked to bear and endure.”
To prevent large gatherings, in-person masses have been canceled around the state since mid-March.
DWC has been live-streaming masses on its website for the majority of Lent including Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Easter Sunday celebration will be streamed at 10:30 a.m. on the site.
Brennan said many priests in the diocese have used social media, phone trees, digital bulletins, and zoom videos to get the word of the Lord across.
“It reminds me of a saying of St. Paul in one of his Corinthians letters that we walk by faith and not by sight. We can’t, in this case, see one another but we trust that the unity we have in faith still is there regardless of the fact that we can’t be together physically,” he said.
Bishop Mark Brennan of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston speaks with @HoppyKercheval about the upcoming Easter Week and COVID-19’s effect on the Lenten season. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/5nTtwwM73i
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) April 4, 2020
Dr. Clay Marsh, the West Virginia coronavirus czar and Dr. Cathy Slemp, state health officer both advocated for social distancing and small groups during Holy Week and beyond.
“Certainly we want people to celebrate in a way that is meaningful to you and to worship. That’s such an important element for all of us for our hope and our futures. I and we implore you to continue to do the things you are doing now,” Marsh said during Thursday’s COVID-19 press briefing.
Slemp said it’s a tough situation but one that was must be taken with precautions with traditional in-person worship, fellowship or gathering activities.
“Places are doing all kinds of things such as phone base, online delivery of services and meetings, to drive-in worship using low-frequency radio communications. There are lots of ways to connect in alternative ways,” she said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the state DHHR reported 523 positive COVID-19 cases in West Virginia.
West Virginia individuals, businesses and institutions are taking a serious financial hit because of the pandemic. The state’s economy has slowed dramatically, hundreds of non-essential businesses have closed, and tens of thousands of people have been laid off.
The number of people filing for unemployment continues at a record pace. WorkForce West Virginia reports nearly 36,000 claims were filed just in the first eight days of April. That’s nine times more than were filed in all of April last year.
West Virginia state government is not immune to the financial impact. The economic slowdown and the decision to push the state tax filing deadline to July 15 to correspond with the federal government are delivering body blows to the state’s finances.
The Justice administration is estimating a decline of $192 million in consumer sales, severance and income tax collections for April, May and June. Those numbers are based on a projected decrease of 25 percent in wages and a 20 percent drop in consumer spending in April and May.
If business does not begin to rebound in June, the numbers could be even worse.
The delay in the state income tax filing means income tax collections of an estimated $300 million will also be pushed into July, after the start of the new budget year. Another worry is that the economic downturn will be so severe that many West Virginians won’t be able to pay their tax bills to the state.
Fortunately, the state does have some options.
The first is the Rainy Day Fund. The state has $855 million in the combined Revenue Shortfall Reserve funds. You always hate to dip into your savings for everyday expenses, but that is why the fund was created and state leaders have been responsible at keeping it flush.
The second is more tenuous. The stimulus bill included $150 billion for state and local governments. West Virginia is in line to receive $1.25 billion. The key is how that provision is interpreted by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Under one interpretation, governments can only use the money to offset costs associated with fighting the pandemic. However, the nation’s governors are pushing Treasury for a more liberal interpretation that would let them use some of money to cover budget shortfalls.
The governors are anxiously awaiting the Treasury Department’s guidelines later this month on how the money can be spent.
West Virginia cannot end the year with a deficit. It also cannot borrow just to pay bills or print money in the basement of the Capitol. In the long term, that’s all good because it keeps our government from overspending.
But it also means West Virginia will have to find some way during these historic times to meet all of its financial obligations.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Canadian man no longer faces multiple charges in Cabell County after a circuit court judge dismissed the case earlier this month.
Jordan Anthony Doswell, 34, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was accused of sexual assault, burglary, strangulation and battery for an incident that allegedly happened at The Pullman Plaza Hotel in Huntington in September 2018.
Authorities arrested Doswell in June 2019 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.
A judge told Doswell’s legal team the state no longer wishes to prosecute the matter.
Doswell is currently in Georgia because of the coronavirus pandemic. He plans on returning to Canada once the state lifts its state-of-emergency order.
WAYNE COUNTY, W.Va. — Sixteen people connected with a Wayne County health facility have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The American Medical Facilities Management announced Thursday the seven patients and nine employees of Wayne Nursing and Rehabilitation Center have confirmed cases of COVID-18.
The Wayne County Health Department is assisting in investigating the origins of the cases.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Thomas Health is set to use Saint Francis Hospital in Charleston as a surge facility in the event of a dramatic increase of coronavirus cases.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources and Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, approached Thomas Health about using the facility as a surge hospital. Takubo is part of the medical staff at Thomas Memorial Hospital.
Dan Lauffer, Thomas Health’s president and CEO, said having the facility ready fits in the institution’s mission.
“We felt that this was something that we needed to do to help our community,” he said.
Members of the West Virginia Natural Guard and various state agencies worked Thursday to convert the space as an alternative care location.
The facility can accommodate up to 96 beds, and 36 beds will be ready as soon as Friday.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is accusing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of “playing politics” by trying to get $250 billion toward small-business loan funding without a majority of senators being in Washington, D.C.
“We all know there needs to be more money put toward small businesses. We all agree,” Manchin said Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline.”
“He just wanted to put it in the same program we already had, which is not working.”
McConnell on Thursday sought unanimous consent on the funding, meaning no lawmakers had to be present for the money to go through. A handful of Democrats objected and later failed to pass additional funding for hospitals as well as local and state governments.
The funding stunts came nearly two weeks after Congress approved a $2.2 trillion economic package related to the coronavirus, which dedicated $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection program. The small-business loan program has been overwhelmed with demand.
Manchin stressed his concerns with the current funding model, and his desire to help provide funding to small businesses soon.
“They’ll be no money left at $350 billion by the time they figure out how to disperse it,” he said. “We’re trying to help smaller businesses in rural America.”
Manchin said legislators have been drafting additional funding for the program and want to negotiate with McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“He don’t want to even negotiate,” Manchin said of McConnell. “He threw it out as a message: we wanted to put out $250 billion out for small businesses, but the Democrats didn’t. Come on, Mitch. Be a grown-up and start acting like a senator and a leader.”
The Senate is adjourned until Monday. No votes are scheduled until April 20.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in West Virginia topped the 500 mark in numbers released by the state Department of Health and Human Resources Thursday evening.
The DHHR reported 523 confirmed cases, a 40-case increase from 24 hours before. There have been 13,863 residents tested for COVID-19. A total of 13,340 tests have been negative with five deaths.
The state’s positive test rate is 3.74 percent.
Berkeley (82), Monongalia (76) and Kanawha (73) have the most confirmed cases in the DHHR numbers which can lag behind a few days from the confirmed cases announced by local county health departments.
Forty-three of the state’s 55 counties have at least one positive case.
Confirmed cases by county:
Barbour (4), Berkeley (82), Boone (1), Braxton (1), Brooke (2), Cabell (17), Fayette (1), Greenbrier (3), Hampshire (2), Hancock (7), Hardy (2), Harrison (29), Jackson (20), Jefferson (45), Kanawha (73), Lewis (1), Logan (8), Marion (31), Marshall (5), Mason (7), McDowell (4), Mercer (7), Mineral (3), Monongalia (76), Morgan (4), Nicholas (2), Ohio (20), Pendleton (1), Pleasants (1), Preston (6), Putnam (11), Raleigh (5), Randolph (3), Roane (3), Taylor (3), Tucker (3), Tyler (2), Upshur (2), Wayne (6), Wetzel (2), Wirt (1), Wood (16), Wyoming (1). county:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state opened a second call center Thursday to help process a record number of unemployment claims linked to the coronavirus.
State Adjutant General Jim Hoyer said the center located at WVU in Morgantown began taking calls for WorkForce West Virginia. He said there could be two additional call centers opening in the coming days.
“A third call center will be going on line soon and we are looking at the potential of a fourth call center now to make sure we disburse are assets effectively,” Hoyer said.
WorkForce West Virginia reported Thursday afternoon it had received 35,900 claims in the first eight days of April after receiving more than 90,000 unemployment claims in the final two and a half weeks of March. The state processed 3,900 claims for the entire month of April last year.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of people out of work, and our hearts go out to every person who’s lost a job these last few weeks,” WorkForce West Virginia acting Commissioner Scott Adkins said.. “I know these are scary times, but folks can be assured that we’re working round the clock with the help of the West Virginia National Guard to process claims and get people the help they need.”
Hoyer said the additional call centers should help. He said the Guard currently has 21 workers there with nine more to join soon. Hoyer said state police personnel would also soon begin answering phones. Efforts are also underway to improve the processing of claims, Hoyer said Thursday.
“We have a team from the Office of Technology, WorkForce West Virginia and the National Guard Technology Office looking at additional technologies and software that will be used to help improve the call center as well as improve the efficiencies of claims processing,” he said.
Gov. Jim Justice said the office is getting better at turning around as many claims as possible. He said Wednesday was a good day.
“We had a total number of claims that came in at 5,400 (for the day) and we processed 4,200,” he said. “We’re still losing a little bit of ground on certain days and certain days we’re doing terrific.”
Justice said at his Thursday media briefing he doesn’t believe state residents will be unemployed long because of federal stimulus packages aimed at helping businesses.
“Many, many of those people that have submitted unemployment claims will be getting a pay check from their employers and coming off of unemployment,” Justice predicted. “The numbers up to this point and time have grown but I can tell you the numbers are going to decrease pretty rapidly.”
The state distributed unemployment benefits to 29,000 state residents Tuesday that included an additional $600 a week in benefits from the CARES Act recently passed by Congress. The additional $600 will go for 16 weeks or to July 31 whichever comes first.
Adkins said earlier this week on MetroNews “Talkline” his best advice was if the line is busy is to keep calling 1-800-252-JOBS and if you can’t log-on to the Workforce site to file your claim keep trying.
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Former Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely is putting lots of his own money into his attempt to return to the court.
Campaign finance reports due into the Secretary of State’s office this week show Neely made a $1 million loan to his own campaign.
West Virginia judicial races are nonpartisan on ballots and are settled during the Primary Election, which has been moved to June 9 this year because of coronavirus precautions.
Three of the five seats are up on the Supreme Court this year, so the races will shape the philosophy of the majority.
Neely is running in Division 1, which includes the current chief Justice Tim Armstead.
The seat represents a 12-year term.
Armstead, a former House speaker, was initially appointed to the seat in 2018 by Gov. Jim Justice following an investigation of court finances and the resignation of then-Justice Menis Ketchum. Armstead then won a special election to retain it.
Neely previously served as a Supreme Court justice from 1973 to 1995.
His campaign finance statement for the first quarter of 2020 shows fundraising of $2,750 aside from the big personal loan.
Altogether, Neely has $1,113,431 on hand for the election home stretch.
Armstead’s campaign reported $35,259 in contributions during the reporting period.
The chief justice’s campaign has $151,784 cash on hand.
That division also includes David Hummel, a circuit judge in the district that includes Marshall, Tyler and Wetzel counties.
Hummel’s campaign raised $52,440 during the reporting period and has $66,428 available to spend.
Division 2 includes four candidates. It’s the seat currently held by Justice Margaret Workman, who is not running for re-election.
It is also a full, 12-year term.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit leads the fundraising among the Supreme Court candidates in that division.
Tabit’s campaign raised $68,825 in the reporting period.
Counting prior fundraising, her campaign has $299,577 to spend.
Bill Wooton, a former state delegate and senator, reported contributions of $30,585 during the period.
But after paying prior expenses, Wooton’s campaign reports $4,032 on hand.
Kris Raynes, an assistant prosecutor in Putnam County, reported contributions of $11,985 in the period.
But once prior spending is counted in, her campaign has $6,346 on hand.
The final candidate listed in the District 2 race, Kanawha Family Circuit Judge Jim Douglas, doesn’t have a report for the period listed on the Secretary of State’s website.
The dashboard on the elections page for the Secretary of State’s office also lists Douglas with no money on hand.
The final seat, Division 3, represents the unexpired term of former Justice Allen Loughry, who resigned and is serving jail time on a federal fraud conviction.
Loughry took office in 2013 and served five years of the term until resigning on Nov. 12, 2018.
Justice John Hutchison, who had been a circuit judge in Raleigh County, then was appointed to the seat by Governor Justice but hasn’t yet faced election to it.
Hutchison’s campaign raised $55,652 during the reporting period. One of his contributors was Justice, who gave $2,800.
His campaign has $175,291 on hand to spend.
Another candidate in the division is Lora Dyer, a circuit judge in Jackson County.
Dyer’s campaign raised $4,885 during the period.
The Dyer campaign has $9,067 on hand to spend.
The final listed candidate in the 3rd district, Charleston lawyer William Schwartz, doesn’t have any financial activity for the 2020 Supreme Court race on the Secretary of State’s Elections site, although the Schwartz campaign does appear to have an active website and Facebook page.
The post Former Justice Neely puts $1 million of his own money toward Supreme Court return attempt appeared first on WV MetroNews.