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The Voice of West Virginia

First Warner-Tennant debate scheduled for Thursday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Secretary of State Mac Warner and former Secretary of State Natalie Tennant will take part in the first of three debates on Thursday.

WVVA-TV is hosting the debate.

Warner, a Republican, is running for his second term in office. Tennant, the Democrat in the contest, previously served as secretary of state from January 2009 to January 2017.

Tennant has not been shy about her opposition to Warner’s handling of the job; she criticized Warner on Tuesday for the online absentee ballot request portal not functioning properly. The website was down until after 4:30 p.m.

Other debates between Warner and Tennant are also scheduled for Sept. 10 and Oct. 15.

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Justice extends Monongalia County bar order

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice on Monday announced an extension of the order keeping Monongalia County bars closed.

The order, which was to expire Thursday, has been extended to Aug. 20 following recommendations to the governor. The order previously was extended past it July 23 and Aug. 3 deadlines.

The extension comes as coronavirus cases across West Virginia continue to increase; the state Department of Health and Human Resources has recorded 953 confirmed and probable cases in Monongalia County as of Wednesday evening. Fifty-two coronavirus cases are active.

“The numbers are better there. They have done much better, and that’s good,” Justice said Wednesday. “If we can come with a protocol that truly works of going ahead and reopening and having those businesses function, we’ll do so.”

Justice said during the next week, state officials will reach out to bar owners and medical officials about how to have bars safely open.

Bars in Monongalia County are allowed to sell food for take-out consumption. Customers can also eat at bar areas of restaurants and hotels, which are subject to statewide restaurant rules.

Justice said he consulted with local leaders, who he claimed want the state to have the final choice.

“They gave us direction on whether to close. Now, they’re kind of diving in a ditch and saying they don’t have any input,” Justice said. “To be perfectly honest, that’s their county. And they should surely to goodness have input,” he added.

Monongalia County Commission President Ed Hawkins told MetroNews affiliate WAJR-AM that the commission has never provided input on bar closures, but it has spoken about bar areas in restaurants.

“To say this commission sidestepped, ducked, ran for cover or whatever is totally not the case,” he said. “This commission is dedicated to leadership, and we will continue to do so.”

Hawkins added Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar, contacted him for input hours before Justice announced the extension.

Justice’s order comes two weeks before classes are scheduled to begin at West Virginia University’s Morgantown campus.

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WVU’s Beckley and Keyser campuses get ready for fall semester

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two West Virginia University affiliates are getting ready for the fall semester, starting with testing students and staff for the coronavirus.

WVU Tech in Beckley began testing on Tuesday, while testing at WVU Potomac State College in Keyser is slated to begin Thursday.

WVU Tech President Carolyn Long said more than 800 people were tested between Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I believe we have nobody that has had to wait longer than five minutes,” she said.

Classes at both campuses are scheduled to start Aug. 19, a week before the fall semester begins at the Morgantown campus.

According to Long, the WVU campuses are sharing a database of testing information as well as utilizing one testing company.

“We learned from Morgantown what they did there,” Long said. “We’ve gotten a lot of help from them as far as how we do this process.”

WVU Potomac State College President Jennifer Orlikoff said testing is being done with enough time to have results back before the first day of class.

“It’s a big undertaking, that’s for sure, but I think it’s an important undertaking so that we can make sure that we have an understanding of what the landscape is that we’re working with,” she said.

Students and staff at both campuses are receiving “welcome back” kits, which include a cloth face mask, disposable masks and hand sanitizer.

The fall semester will include a combination of face-to-face classes, online classes and hybrid lessons. Orlikoff said at the Keyser campus classrooms will have a rolling plexiglass screen. Classroom capacity has been reduced by 50% for social distancing.

“If students have to quarantine, they will be able to continue their engagement in the class remotely. This is a very flexible academic model that’s going to hopefully address as many needs as possible,” she said.

Social distancing and face mask use will be required at both campuses. Long told MetroNews students and faculty are making the necessary adjustments.

“We have about 300 students that moved into dorms,” she said. “From what I have seen, they are doing beautifully.”

Classes at West Virginia State University started on Monday with similar rules to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

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WVDE names Homberg to lead West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind

ROMNEY, W.Va. — Patricia Homberg has been reinstated to the position of Superintendent of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind (WVSDB) by the West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday.

Homberg has served as the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) liaison to the WVSDB during her tenure at the WVDE and has extensive background working with children with exceptionalities, according to a news release.

The naming of Homberg to the position comes as Webster County School Superintendent Scott Cochran backed out of the position just a few days after being named to lead the WVSDB on August 1.

“Having formerly served in this position, Homberg fully understands the schools’ re-entry plans and what is needed to implement them during this time uncertainty caused by COVID-19,” WVDE told MetroNews in a release.

WVBE votes to reinstate Patricia Homberg as Superintendent of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

— WV Dept of Education (@WVeducation) August 12, 2020

Cochran reconsidered the position on August 4, citing his ability to remain close and available to his family. Homberg agreed to stay in her role as WVDE liaison to the WVSDB at that time.

Clayton Burch, the Superintendent of West Virginia Schools supported the board’s decision during the meeting.

“She has quite a lot of experience working with the Schools of the Deaf and the Blind over the last 10 or 15 years. She understands in the past what we have gone through when we have hired superintendents there,” Burch said.

“She also really understands the community needs as well.”

Miller Hall, the president of the state Board of Education said Homberg is the right person for the position during this period.

“My idea is if we put it out there now, we are not going to get any applicants,” he said. “She (Homberg) already knows about the COVID-19 re-entry plan, Pat has already established that. We will ride the waves as long as we can, we have somebody that is already up there.”

Homberg will have an annual salary of $124,000.

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Bluefield’s Sean Martin impressive early in WVU training camp (Day 3 report)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Praise for a true freshman on the third official day of training camp can be difficult to come by. But Bluefield native and defensive lineman Sean Martin picked some up from WVU head coach Neal Brown on Wednesday.

“Sean Martin was a big get for us,” Brown said. “Not only does he look the part, he has done everything we have asked him to do since he has been here. He is learning. The game is obviously at a different speed. He is extremely detail-oriented. He is intelligent and understands the game. He is about the right things so I think he has a bright future.”

With spring practice halted after just two days in March, the Mountaineers did something on Wednesday for the first time in over eight months.

“We did put on the pads. It was rusty. The last time we put on shoulder pads was against TCU last Thanksgiving weekend. So it had been a long time. It wasn’t the cleanest but I did like the fact that our guys competed.

“We worked areas where we want to get better. If we want to be one of the most improved teams in the country, and that is our goal, it is where we worked on areas today — third down and we worked on red zone. We have to be better in those areas. To do that, we have to practice them a lot.”

WVU DL Darius Stills (56) and Bryce Brand (42) (Photo by Austin Gaines/WVU Football)

Brown said both veteran quarterbacks, Jarret Doege and Austin Kendall had bright spots mixed with moments of inconsistency.

“We threw a lot at them today. For both Doege and Kendall there were some ‘wow’ moments where they spun it and put it in some tight windows and hit some home runs down the field. And there were some throws that they missed. From a consistency point, it was not exactly what we want. But there were some flashes that give you a lot of hope.”

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Governor doubts hosting the vice president at his resort will violate his executive order limiting crowds to 25

Gov. Jim Justice is hosting Vice President Mike Pence for a gathering at The Greenbrier this weekend, but he says he doesn’t know much about it.

Justice says he isn’t looped in on The Greenbrer’s preparations, even though his family owns the resort.

He says he doesn’t know whether the crowd for the Trump-Pence fundraiser will meet the state’s guidelines limiting gatherings to 25 people or fewer, even though it’s his executive order and he’s the host of the event.

Mike Pence

All he knows, the governor said today, is it’s not a fundraiser to benefit his own campaign and he will be friendly to the vice president of the United States.

“This is not a fundraiser for me, and it’s an absolute fundraiser for our president and our vice president,” Justice said today.

“I’ll be there, and I’ll greet our vice president as I always would try to do. But from the standpoint of how The Greenbrier’s handling it or the size of the crowd, and everything, there will be no crowd and I’m sure The Greenbrier will handle it very well.”

The event is this Saturday at the resort owned by Justice and his family.

The price to participate is not pocket change. The invitation starts with roundtable seating available for $25,000 a person.

There’s an $11,200 per person level that includes a photo opportunity.

There’s a $2,800 per person luncheon.

Or those who can’t attend are invited to give whatever they can.

Pence fundraiser

Justice, owner of The Greenbrier as well as coal and agriculture holdings, often describes a close relationship with President Trump, a fellow Republican who refers to him as “Big Jim.”

Pence is chairman of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Justice is leading West Virginia’s coronavirus response, with daily briefings urging people to wear masks, wash hands and stay away from large gatherings.

“The event with Vice President Pence will adhere to all COVID-19 mask requirements, social distancing, and personal protection policies recommended by local, state, and federal governments,” said communications director Clay Sutton for Justice’s re-election campaign.

The governor last month lowered West Virginia’s social gathering limit from 100 people down to 25.

“The 25-person limitation applies only to purely social gatherings,” according to state guidelines.

The limit does not apply to “group meetings, conferences or other special events held for essential businesses and operations, as defined by the emergency order signed by Justice. “Such meetings, conferences, or other special events will need to plan for social distancing between attendees based on CDC recommendations.”

Justice today did not discuss which one of those kinds of gatherings might describe a political fundraiser.

The host of the event said he does not know how many people will be there.

“I think the numbers they’re going to target that are going to be there are not very many people,” Justice said. “This is not a fundraiser where you’ve got, you know, 400 or 500 people. It’s nothing like that, and everything.”

The Greenbrier’s owner also said more than once today that he is not looped in on the planning.

“From the standpoint of The Greenbrier handling it and everything, I have no idea,” he said. “I have no contact with those people from the standpoint of how they’re handling this at all.”

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Justice touts local control of school re-entry; says measurement to assess virus spread is almost ready

Gov. Jim Justice says his administration will soon unveil a way to measure whether the rate of coronavirus spread will allow for the reopening of schools, but the governor also said reopening decisions should be left to local school system leaders.

“Local control should rule, and that is what we’re going to do,” Justice said. “Local input is going to rule the day.”

School systems around the state have been producing plans for students to return at a target date Sept. 8. Most are offering options to families, who must choose.

The governor has said he wants to return to classrooms while assuring the health of students, teachers and staff.

Justice has described a color-coded map that would depict whether the level of virus spreading in counties would allow school to remain open. But the factors to determine whether a community’s status is red, orange, yellow or green haven’t yet been revealed.

“I’m awaiting all kinds of information coming from the Department of Ed,” Justice said today. “I expect that information to flow back to me by the end of the week.

“It is a culmination of a lot, a lot of information that’s going to give us guidance on how we’re going to be able to under local, local control, we’re going to be able to reopen our schools and we’re going to be able to be flexible, fluid and close our schools when we have to.”

State Superintendent Clayton Burch

In a separate meeting of the state Board of Education, schools Superintendent Clayton Burch indicated the standard would be a 7-day rolling average, “not a yo-yo number,” for communities. He suggested it would be updated twice a week.

“It’s where we get to orange and red that decisions have to be made,” Burch told state school board members.

Being shown as red or orange wouldn’t necessarily mean a long-term closure, Burch said, but it would mean shutting down classrooms until mitigation measures have been achieved.

Coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh and Bill Crouch, secretary of health and human resources, are preparing to present the measurement system to the governor late this week, Burch said.

Burch said he is often asked whether 55 counties will really open on Sept. 8.

“Sept. 8 is quite a ways away,” Burch said, noting the uncertainty of the entire situation.

“But the fact of the matter is, we have counties preparing that have to have a contingency plan.”

He described the efforts when schools abruptly closed last spring as “triage” but said the plans coming in from counties “are much more robust.”

“We continue to hear ‘Why don’t we just start the year with remote learning?'” Burch said. He concluded, “This idea of closing schools and resorting to remote learning is a big, big mistake.”

Because different communities have different resources, including access to high-speed internet, starting the school year from home would result in disparities.

“We just don’t have the means for every child to participate virtually right now,” Burch said.

Board member Debra Sullivan sought assurance that state officials are examining local plans carefully.

“I’m trusting and I’m sure you’re going to reassure us the plans are being scrutinized,” Sullivan said.

Burch assured her that some have been sent back for a greater level of detail.

Justice said local leaders have responsibility for the return to school in their own communities.

“So we’re still full-steam ahead to go forward but everybody around, while they’re full steam ahead, everybody around is looking and watching and worried and able to pivot and able to be fluid in what we decide and do,” Justice said.




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Needing new opponents, Marshall & C-USA schools ready to take the field

(MetroNews Talkline interview with Marshall AD Mike Hamrick)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Like the American Athletic Conference and the Sun Belt, Conference USA is moving ahead with plans for a full 2020 football schedule.

For Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick, open weeks in September need to be filled quickly. The Herd has lost three of their four originally scheduled non-conference games due to the ACC’s new policies and season cancellations by the MAC and the Mountain West. The Herd’s regular season finale against Old Dominion is also off the board as the Monarchs decided not to compete this year.

“We are going to play someone in our division twice home-and-home,” Hamrick said. “So the conference is putting that together. We do have the game at East Carolina. The American Athletic Conference has indicated that they are moving forward.”

The ECU game, which will memorialize the 75 victims in the 1970 plane crash, will be moved off its original August 29 slot to a new date.

“We currently have an FCS game scheduled. We hope that that holds tight. We’ve got a couple other people that we are talking with right now to try to fill the holes in our schedule. I would like to play at least ten games — five here and five on the road. And possibly eleven if I can get six here.

“It is devastating to us because we had probably the best home schedule in the history of Marshall University with non-conference opponents Boise State and Pittsburgh coming to Huntington. Obviously, that is not going to happen. We are trying to fill in the best we can.”

Hamrick says that in Marshall’s latest round of student-athlete COVID testing within the entire program, 196 tests produced 1 positive result.

“As long as we can keep our student-athletes safe, our coaches, staff and fans safe, we are moving forward with football. We have a very good protocol with our student-athletes as related to COVID. We have a very extensive testing program that we continue to use. And I feel that our student-athletes are as safe in our environment, in our protocol in our athletics program as they are anywhere else.

“The minute I feel that they are not safe, then I would be an advocate for shutting it down.”

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Three Guys Before The Game – Tyrone Sally (Episode 220)

Tyrone Sally’s career at West Virginia is perhaps one of the least told best stories in school history.

The Chesterfield, Virginia native was a sea of calm in the most chaotic chapter of WVU’s basketball history. He played for four coaches in his first year on campus. There were numerous opportunities to look for a more stable environment but he refused.

The result was a magical time that produced highlights and memories that brought a collective smile to WVU fans everywhere.

The soft-spoken Sally takes Mountaineer fans on a wonderful detailed journey of his career with stories you’ve never heard before.

The “Guys” return next week with a new episode. Leave a voicemail or text the show anytime at 304-404-4083.

Look super cool by wearing Three Guys merchandise.

Never miss an episode, subscribe below.

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As virus spreads, Justice announces nursing homes will be blocked from visitation again

Gov. Jim Justice again closed visitation to West Virginia nursing homes, citing a rising death toll and outbreaks at several facilities.

“We have got in some way with all in us to calm this down,” Justice said during a Wednesday briefing about the state’s coronavirus response.

The West Virginia Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities, expressed sorrow over the situation that families are facing but said Justice had to make a difficult decision.

Marty Wright

“While we continue to advocate the benefits of having in-person visitation with loved ones, we understand Governor Justice’s desire to implement a temporary pause on visitation to reassess guidance related to community spread,” stated Marty Wright, chief executive of the association.

“Our providers stand ready to work with the governor and his administration to implement a revised reopening plan that will more pointedly incorporate local considerations into visitation guidelines. In the meantime, our resourceful caregivers are prepared to reinstate creative methods to assist our residents in maintaining regular contact with their families until they can once again visit in-person.”

West Virginia locked down and completed mass testing of all nursing homes early in the coronavirus response as Justice publicly recognized the vulnerabilities of residents.

On June 17, as part of the loosening of stay-at-home orders, the administration allowed for more comings and goings from facilities around the state.

About 30 West Virginia nursing homes are experiencing outbreaks right now, state officials said this week, although that can mean as few as one resident with a confirmed case.

Among the most serious outbreaks as described by state officials are at Pine Lodge in Beckley, Grant County Rehabilitation and Care Center, Trinity Healthcare Services in Logan County and Princeton Health Care Center in Mercer County.

The situation in Princeton has been particularly tragic, with 33 active cases among residents, 16 among staff and at least 13 deaths. The facility’s medical director contracted the virus, had to be put on a ventilator and was flown to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.

WV DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch

“Closing nursing homes to visitation is a difficult thing for families. We made that recommendation to the governor by looking at the number of outbreaks we have,” said Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Justice acknowledged the difficult position this will create for families who will be unable to see loved ones face-to-face, saying “I would feel just disarmed; I wouldn’t know what to do.”

The governor added, “It’s really, really, really sad.”

But he said the virus had been brought into facilities, sometimes by staff going in and out or possibly by families during visitation.

“From all of that we’ve probably done some things we shouldn’t have done from the standpoint of people traveling as they do on similar summer vacations; they’ve probably gone into infested areas; and all of a sudden we’ve brought this killer back to West Virginia,” Justice said.

Justice and Crouch promised to soon deliver more guidance on what level of virus spread in communities should prompt tighter restrictions in nursing homes.

“We never did define ‘substantial community spread,” Crouch acknowledged today.

The state first promised to deliver that guidance on June 17.

Justice pushed out the state health officer, Cathy Slemp, on June 24, a week after nursing home reopening guidelines were introduced.

A new state health officer, Ayne Amjad, was named on July 10. Amjad has been getting up to speed right as the pandemic has picked up, stretched in her duties because she is also serving as interim director of the Mercer County Health Department.

Today, Justice described renewed efforts to present a standard for judging how community spread would affect nursing homes — “something that’s going to be out in days.”

Crouch added, “We’re looking at that alert system as well as the school alert system as well as the definition of ‘substantial community spread.’ We should have something out soon on all of that.”

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