Justice Says State Will Cover Extended Unemployment And Begin More Tests Of Nursing Homes, Jails
Nearly five months into West Virginia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Jim Justice says his administration needs to develop another round of plans to test vulnerable populations and children. The governor also said the state is ready and willing to disperse additional unemployment benefits after President Trump signed an executive action on Friday extending those benefits.
With outbreaks reported in nursing homes and correctional centers across the state, Justice said Monday he is focused on developing plans to retest all residents and staff. He also noted additional cases discovered at state correctional facilities.
Justice and other state officials said Monday that at least 30 nursing homes in the state are experiencing outbreaks of the coronavirus. That news comes as Justice announced 14 COVID-19-related deaths since Friday.
Eight of those deaths were from the Princeton Health Care Center in Mercer County, although state health officials and the local health department have struggled to keep an accurate tally of deaths in that county because of personnel changes.
“Boy, we’ve got a long ways to go. This situation just shows us over and over and over how vulnerable — especially our nursing homes — are,” Justice said of the recent deaths.
Justice said eight inmates and one staff member at the South Central Regional Jail in Kanawha County have tested positive, as have 10 staff members at the Southern Regional Jail in Raleigh County.
The governor said plans are needed to continue retesting at those facilities, but HE acknowledged limited availability of testing supplies and laboratory resources.
“We need to develop plans right now,” Justice said. “to go back through and retest every single person — in all the nursing homes again. And we need a plan to be able to go through and retest every person in our correctional facilities again.”
With concerns lingering over the start of the school year, Justice said the state does not currently have the capability to test all K-12 students and teachers ahead of the targeted start date on Sept. 8.
“We absolutely will do everything in our power to not put our kids and our teachers or service personnel into any situation that we deem and we feel is unsafe,” he said.
Justice also said he will comply with executive actions from Trump that call for an additional $400 weekly unemployment benefit. According to Trump’s memo, states would be expected to pick up a quarter of that cost. The governor said that will cost the state $26 million a week.
“We're going to pay it, West Virginia is going to pay it from the standpoint that we cannot let our people that are sitting out there with no job, wondering what in the world they’re going to do,” Justice said.
Just before the turn of the fiscal year in late June, Justice allocated $678 million in CARES Act funding to take care of potential unemployment benefits.
As of Monday morning, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported 141 deaths from COVID-19 and 7,754 total cases of the coronavirus.