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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced the start Wednesday of a new vaccine rollout plan aimed at the state’s senior population called Save Our Wisdom, or SOW.
“We can’t let the wisdom just die away,” said Justice in his Wednesday virtual press briefing where he addressed specifics on his vaccination plan rollout and concerns from educators over safety.
SOW will mainly focus on getting the elderly in West Virginia vaccinated, starting with people 80 and older.
“The very thing that we oughta all be the most concerned with, that I was preaching to the mountaintops, was age, age, age,” Justice said. “Because if we can vaccinate our elderly, that’s who I’m reading every day.”
Justice referred to the identities of the state’s latest COVID-19 victims, which he acknowledges in each media briefing by reading their age, gender and where they lived. The majority of those deaths have been people over 60.
The governor said his new SOW initiative will also prioritize “faculty and service personnel” who are 50 and above, but he did not specify exactly what kind of service workers they would be.
Ten vaccination clinics, starting Thursday, will be set up in partnership with county health departments. These counties include Berkeley, Kanawha, Mercer, Monongalia, Ohio, Raleigh, Wood and Wyoming.
The first vaccination sites announced this week as part of the Save Our Wisdom initiative are located here:
Berkeley County Health Department
273 Martinsburg Drive
Martinsburg, WV 25404
Thursday, Jan. 7 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 9 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Brushfork National Guard Armory
2915 Old Bramwell Road
Bluefield, WV 25701
Thursday, Jan. 7, 9 a.m. until complete
Beckley Raleigh Convention Center
200 Armory Drive
Beckley, WV 25801
Friday, Jan. 8, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
NO APPOINTMENT NECESSARY
Williamstown National Guard Armory
285 Aviation Drive
Williamstown, WV 26187
Saturday, Jan. 9, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 10, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Morgantown National Guard Armory
90 Army Band Way
Morgantown, WV 26505
Thursday, Jan. 7, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 8, 12 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Wheeling-Ohio Health Department
1500 Chapline Street, #106
Wheeling, WV 26003
Jan. 7-14, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Call 304-234-3756 to schedule an appointment.
This first round of events will be only for people 80 years old and older, and most locations require scheduling an appointment.
Justice said more vaccines will be distributed each week to sites. As of Wednesday, the state had 109,000 vaccine injections available. About 61,000 West Virginians have been vaccinated so far. The governor also said that all nursing home staff and residents in the state have now been vaccinated and have started receiving the required second dose of the vaccine this week.
“West Virginia is the first in the country to provide both doses to the long-term care community,” said Todd Jones, president of AMFM Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers in West Virginia. “[That’s] a tribute to the plan that the [state’s coronavirus task force] have put together.”
Jones said several other states have not yet begun the process of vaccinating those who live or work in nursing homes.
Additionally, K-12 teachers and school service personnel 50 and older will have access to the vaccine beginning Thursday, Jan. 7. Vaccination sites vary per county. The first round of vaccinations for Jefferson County Schools, for example, will be administered at Jefferson High School.
Teachers have reported receiving emails from their county school system with more details about whether they are eligible this week or at a later time. Thursday will be the first time teachers and school service personnel will have access to the vaccine since rollout began.
Rollout, however, comes a little more than a week ahead of the state’s in-person schooling start-date.
When K-12 school resumed on Jan. 4 following the holidays, all students remained in remote-style learning. The governor has made it clear he wants kindergarten through middle school to resume full, in-person schooling on Jan. 19. High schools are expected to continue with remote learning only if that county is red on the Department of Health and Human Resources color-coded coronavirus map.
Up until this point, counties labeled red or orange were not permitted to teach face-to-face at any grade level.
“We have got to get our kids back in school,” Justice said in a virtual press briefing just before the new year. “During 2020 we learned that COVID-19 transmission rates in our schools during the first semester was 0.02 percent among students and 0.3 percent among staff. Our schools are safe when guidelines are followed.”
Justice said bringing kindergarten through middle school students back to brick-and-mortar buildings is not a mandate. County school systems have the flexibility to make decisions about how they want to hold school after Jan. 19.
The governor’s start-date also does not allow for all teachers and service personnel to receive the required two-dose injections ahead of returning to classrooms. Depending on the manufacturer of the vaccine, a second injection must be administered 21 or 28 days after the first.
Many educators are protesting the governor’s school reopening plan, including 2016 Berkeley County Teacher of the Year Jessica Salfia. Salfia is also a member of the American Federation of Teachers, West Virginia chapter.
“We will be opening schools when our infection rate is the highest it has ever been and during the post-Christmas and holiday surge that most scientists and medical professionals tell us to expect this month,” Salfia wrote in a statement shared on Twitter Monday night. “I know remote learning is difficult. I miss school. My children miss school. But if it means no deaths, no sickness, and teachers being vaccinated with both doses, then we can do it for one more month.”
Salfia called on her local school board to continue with remote learning only until all teachers and service personnel can be fully vaccinated.
AFT-WV President Fred Albert announced Monday that AFT-WV has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to receive all documentation collected showing school outbreaks. The union is also seeking virtual schooling data claiming over one third of students on remote or virtual learning are failing, as the governor has said.
“Everyone yearns to get back to normalcy,” Albert said in a statement. “But to get there, we need a plan that protects staff, students and vulnerable members of our community. It’s time the governor used the CARES Act money to implement an accelerated vaccination plan of school employees who wish to be inoculated.”
Many teachers around the United States are also expressing frustration at vaccine rollout plans. In Tampa, Florida, teachers said they aren’t being prioritized. In Chicago, Illinois, 40 percent of public school teachers didn’t report for in-person schooling Monday.
As of Wednesday evening, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported more than 1,500 new cases of COVID-19 identified in the past 24 hours. More than 27,000 cases are active, and there have been 1,481 people who have died from the virus to-date.
More than 800 people in West Virginia are hospitalized, 217 people are in intensive care and 90 people are on ventilators.