CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Monday heralded an 88% drop in COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the year, but still urged residents to take precautions.
“Don’t drop your guard, West Virginia. We still got a ways to go,” he said at a coronavirus briefing.
West Virginia on Monday reported the lowest number of weekly deaths from the coronavirus in more than four months. State health officials said there were 25 virus-related deaths last week, the lowest since the week ending Oct. 25. No such deaths were reported on two different days last week.
The number of weekly confirmed virus cases, 1,260, was the lowest since early October. As of Sunday, there were 178 people hospitalized for the virus, down from the peak of 818 on Jan. 5. The number of active statewide cases, 5,613, was the lowest since Nov. 2.
Justice ordered the lifting of capacity limits on bars, restaurants, gyms, museums and most businesses over the weekend. The limit on social gatherings also went up, from 75 to 100 people.
The Republican governor has implored people to continue wearing masks and social distancing. A statewide face-covering mandate remains in effect.
A review of state data show there was a jump in vaccinations, with 40,404 people receiving a first dose last week, up 28% from the previous week. So far, 19% of the state’s 1.78 million population is partially vaccinated, while 12.1% of residents are fully vaccinated.
Over 115,000 residents ages 65 and over are fully vaccinated. Last week, the age limit for COVID-19 vaccinations was lowered to all residents 50 and older.
Justice announced that West Virginia’s federal partnership with pharmacies will expand to include the Medicine Shoppe/Leader Network chain of pharmacies. About 5,000 additional vaccine doses from the federal government will ship directly to those 59 pharmacy locations, officials said.
With the U.S. Senate’s approval of a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan last week, Justice said there was enough for the recovery to get over “the steepest part of the mountain.”
He also took aim at Democratic U.S. Sen Joe Manchin, who has criticized the governor for not directly spending more of the federal aid from the first stimulus package. Justice put about half a billion of the $1.25 billion in federal aid into the state’s unemployment fund.
A massive new bill pending in the state Senate has language that would likely bar the governor from using the same maneuver with the next round of money. Justice blamed Manchin for that provision, and also said he was unhappy that Manchin successfully pushed during negotiations to reduce the plan’s weekly unemployment benefit payout from $400 to $300.
Later on Monday, Manchin responded in a statement.
“Instead of political attacks that do nothing to help hard working West Virginians, I welcome the opportunity to speak with Governor Justice about the best possible ways to improve the lives of West Virginians with the more than $2 billion in federal funding that I secured for our state in this bill,” he said.
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