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This story was updated at 3:55 p.m. on June 3, 2020 to include additional comments by Gov. Jim Justice.
All inmates at West Virginia’s correctional facilities are set to be tested for the coronavirus by June 12, Gov. Jim Justice said at a virtual press conference Wednesday morning.
The system-wide testing comes after an outbreak at the Huttonsville Correctional Center, in Randolph County. As of Monday afternoon, there were 119 prisoners at Huttonsville and eight employees who had tested positive.
Justice said seven of the employees and 21 inmates have since recovered.
“Everything is moving in the direction that we want it to move,” Justice said.
He said testing was underway at additional facilities — three regional jails, two prisons and two juvenile centers — in the state’s two panhandles, with facilities in the Northern Panhandle expected to be fully tested Wednesday.
There are about 9,300 people incarcerated in state-run prisons and jails.
In the wide-ranging briefing, Justice also announced that beginning on June 10, all state and private park campgrounds would be open to out-of-state guests. The state is asking those guests to stay one week or less.
Meanwhile, another round of free COVID-19 testing was announced in Grant, Hampshire and Hardy counties for June 13. The testing will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the following EA Hawse Health Center locations:
Grant County: 64 Hospital Drive #5, Petersburg
Hampshire County: 22338 North Western Turnpike, Romney
Hardy County (three locations): 17978 WV 55, Baker; 8 Lee Street #127, Moorefield; and 106 Harold K. Michael Drive, Mathias
The effort is a part of a state-wide initiative to increase testing for minorities and other vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
Scott Adkins, acting commissioner of WorkForce West Virginia also provided an update at the news briefing. He said the agency has received 250,000 unemployment claims over the last 10 weeks — five times the number of claims the agency received in all of 2019 He noted that agency officials are still processing about 5 percent of claims.
National Convention Unlikely
During the press conference, Justice stepped out to take a phone call from President Donald Trump.
Justice said he recently extended an invitation to Trump and the Republican Party to consider moving the Republican National Conventionfrom North Carolina to West Virginia. The event is scheduled to be held in Charlotte, N.C., in August.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper had expressed concerns about the influx of out-of-town visitors and the ability of a full-scale gathering to adhere to CDC guidelines to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.
During the Wednesday briefing, Justice characterized his decision to extend the invitation to host the RNC in West Virginia as a way to continue to put the state “on the radar” of the president.
“The reality is just this: It is such a long-shot, and it is just something that I will continue to do to market West Virginia, he said, adding “… It’s probably not going to become a reality.”
Later in the briefing, Justice said the call with the president was focused mostly on incidents of unrest across the country in response to the killing of unarmed black people by police. Justice praised West Virginia for holding largely peaceful protests and demonstrations.
He added that he believes his relationship with Trump ultimately benefits West Virignians.
“I wanted him to always know just how welcome he is in West Virginia. And any president, you know,” Justice said. “And we should absolutely welcome all — maybe not Barack Obama — but nevertheless, we’ll welcome any president.”
In a press release sent Wednesday afternoon, Justice said his comments about Obama were “in jest” and related to the Obama administration’s environmental policies.
“Everyone knows that President Obama made it a specific strategy to destroy our coal industry and power plants which, for more than a century, had been the lifeblood of West Virginia’s economy,” Justice stated.
Most industry analysts say low natural gas prices and the continued decline in cost of renewable energy are the main factors driving the decline of coal.