Andrea Billups Published

Justice: COVID Cases On The Rise As 5 Counties Move to Red Zone, Students Prepare For Return To School

Governor Jim Justice speaks at his virtual press briefing, June 26, 2020

Gov. Jim Justice on Friday said the state is starting to see a “rapid increase” in new COVID-19 infections as the impact of the delta variant is starting to be felt across the nation.

Justice said at his briefing that the state has a total of 3,372 active cases. Those include 14 outbreaks of the virus in long term care facilities, 10 outbreaks in churches and 29 inmates and four staffers at the state’s correctional facilities.

Of those jail infections, 20 are inmates at the Stevens Correctional Center in the McDowell County town of Welch.

“We all know how to stop it — get vaccinated,” Justice said, noting that West Virginians are characteristically stubborn but also thoughtful and giving — and should be looking out for one another by taking the shots.

The governor said no new mask mandates are planned. “We’re going to keep trying and crawling every way to get everyone vaccinated,” he said.

Justice touted 3,000 newly vaccinated state residents since Wednesday. But he reported nine new deaths. Those who aren’t yet vaccinated, he said, “are taking a helluva risk.”

He encouraged state residents who are vacationing out of state to wear masks if they are close to large groups of people or gatherings, whether vaccinated or not.

Five counties are now in the red zone on the state’s color-coded map for infections. But the state continues to move forward on plans for a full return to in-person schooling over the next couple of weeks. Justice noted that education officials are readying contingencies but hope more students will get vaccinated to keep outbreaks and illnesses at bay. Prizes of $50,000 will be awarded to the 12 school across the state with the highest vaccination rates.

Dr. Bill Crouch, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said 31 percent of students age 12-plus still haven’t gotten the vaccine.

“Our kids desperately need to go back to school,” Justice said. “If this thing continues to get worse and worse and worse, there is a possibility of having to pivot and do a lot of different things.”

The last and final Do-It-For-Babydog vaccination sweepstakes is slated for Tuesday with a $1.58 million cash prize and a second $588,000 cash prize set to be awarded along with trucks and college scholarships. Those who have received at least one shot have until Sunday night at 11:59 p.m. to register for the final drawings.