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Justice, Health Advisers Urge Holiday Caution, Draft Vaccine Distribution Plan

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STEVEN ROTSCH
Gov. Jim Justice speaks to the media on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020 about the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With the holiday season fast approaching and some leery of traditional family gatherings, Gov. Jim Justice and his health team are urging West Virginians to remain cautious as the coronavirus surges across the state and the nation.

In a Friday virtual news conference, Justice warned residents to be safe through the upcoming holidays. The suggestion comes as the world waits for a vaccine to be made available to the public.

“As soon as soon as this vaccine is available. We will be absolutely distributing it in West Virginia,” Justice said, noting that his administration has been working with the National Guard since August on how the vaccine would be rolled out in the state.

Under a draft of the plan, which was released Wednesday, health care workers would be the first to receive the vaccine, with other essential workers and then members of the general public.

With widespread distribution of a vaccine likely still months away, Justice and his health advisors also asked residents to reconsider holiday traditions that bring large numbers of people together indoors.

“I surely hope and pray that you'll be safe in being with your loved ones and your families and — at the same time — you may very well be smart to do at least some of it on a virtual basis,” Justice said.

Those words of caution come as West Virginia and the rest of the United States continue to see increases in the spread of the virus.

“This thing is getting worse,” Justice said. “And I truly believe it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Justice noted Friday that 27 West Virginians have died from the virus since Wednesday — bringing the total number of deaths attributed to the virus to 639.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reports 1,081 new cases in the past 24 hours — marking the third day in a row that more than a thousand new cases were recorded.

In total, the 38,480 residents have been infected since the beginning of the pandemic, of which 12,177 are considered active.

In recent weeks, that remains true. New cases of the coronavirus have skyrocketed — records for new daily cases continue to be broken and the number of deaths reported each day is rising as well.

Following an executive order issued last week that requires testing of doctors, nurses and staff working in nursing homes and assisted nursing facilities twice a week, Justice said that initiative has yielded 11 asymptomatic positive cases.

Justice has repeatedly said this week he is opposed to shutting down businesses, schools and other aspects of public life. He spent much of Wednesday’s virtual briefing attempting to dispel rumors that the state was headed in such a direction and reiterated that position Friday.

“We’re not moving towards shutting down in any place at this point in time. But, absolutely, this thing is trending and it is trending bad,” Justice said.

But the governor also said Friday that more drastic measures — including some closures or, possibly, a curfew — could be on the table if the spike continues and reaches a more critical point.

“Everything's got to stay on the table. You see what's going on across this nation, I mean, for crying out loud,” Justice said. “There's people that are shutting down all kinds of different things. And if this situation continues to get worse, we're going to have no choice also. We have got to be able to protect our people.”

Justice said if the situation worsens, he would consider taking action in a focused way, giving attention to counties that are considered hotspots.

“It may very well be that I have to come back in here on Monday, and we have to take a pin point — a scalpel — to situations, instead of a sledgehammer,” he said.


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