Governor's Justice Prayer Meeting

Gov. Jim Justice (right) prays during a Statewide Day of Prayer Service along with Appalachian Bible College President Daniel Anderson Wednesday morning. During the afternoon virtual press briefing, Justice announced he had extended the state tax filing deadline and would keep schools closed until April 20.

Before making a hasty exit from the daily West Virginia coronavirus briefing, Gov. Jim Justice announced that he is extending the state school closure order to April 20 and said he is directing the Tax Division to push the personal income tax filing deadline to July 15, to correspond with the federal extension.

Justice said that, as governor, he does not have authority to extend the tax filing deadline but is directing Tax Commissioner Dale Steager to proceed with that action.

Justice said two issues prompted his decision: Taxpayer convenience, to avoid forcing people to have two filing deadlines, along with concern about how the extension would increase state revenue shortfalls in the budget year.

He said that having a better idea now, after Tuesday night’s marathon U.S. Senate negotiations, of how a nearly $2 trillion federal economic stimulus plan will work, state Revenue officials are more confident they can forego income tax payments this budget year.

“The thing that is pushing us over the hump here, and giving us the opportunity and the promise to go forward with this, is that we do now have a lot more insight into how the [federal] government stimulus dollars will work, and how they’re going to flow,” Justice said.

Not surprisingly, April is the largest month for state income tax collection, with the Department of Revenue projecting $339.3 million in collection for the month. (Personal income tax collection in other months this budget year are projected to range from between $103.7 million to $224.2 million a month.)

Justice also announced that he is waiving, until May 1, interest and penalties on late property tax payments. Property taxes are due March 1, and interest and penalties normally begin accruing on unpaid tax tickets beginning April 1.

Justice exited the daily briefing after his comments, saying he was leaving to participate in a phone call with the White House regarding issues of securing additional supplies for the state.

Before departing, the governor also announced that he is extending the statewide school closure order, moving the earliest return date back to April 20.

“We’re hopeful our kids will go back to school at some point in time,” he said. “Right now, we’re not there, by any stretch of the imagination.”

Schools have already been closed for nearly two weeks, and Wednesday’s order closes them for another three. This means that county school systems will have to prolong their efforts to feed children, but not in large groups, and provide them distance education, through online learning — and other means, for students who possibly don’t have computers or reliable internet access.

On Sunday, state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch issued guidance telling counties they could not “ask staff to be present in schools unless they are volunteering for meal preparation and distribution.”

Regardless, updated guidance that his Department of Education issued Wednesday says that, “in order to continue to receive federal funding to feed children, county school systems must continue to manage the school meals programs.”

The guidance says school employees, department staff “and community organizations across the state will support county food distribution.” The education department said the West Virginia National Guard, Department of Agriculture and Division of Tourism also have been helping feed children.

“Efforts are underway to address how grades and GPAs will be calculated in a manner that is equitable for all children,” education department spokeswoman Christy Day said Wednesday. “Those details are forthcoming.”

The department said in a news release Wednesday that, “during this unparalleled time, we must avoid assuming that continuity of education outside of typical school buildings only can occur through online means. Counties will continue to provide student engagement opportunities using learning materials, phone contact, email, technology-based virtual instruction or a combination of all of the above to meet student needs.”

Burch’s Sunday guidance had said that, “for those whose plan also includes the use of paper and pencil packets sent to children’s homes, we strongly advise that you do not expect that work to be returned to teachers for grades. At this point in the process, our goal should be to maintain engagement with our children, and to assist in keeping their skills sharp.”

Justice’s announcement seemingly puts him at odds with President Donald Trump, who, on Tuesday,said he’d like to see coronavirus restrictions eased and the United States reopened by Easter Sunday, April 12.

Also during Wednesday’s daily briefing:

  • Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University, said an upsurge in positive cases of coronavirus from Tuesday to Wednesday shows that the state is entering the logarithmic phase of the spread of the virus, where cases will rise exponentially.

He said it is more critical than ever to practice social distancing, proper hygiene and other efforts to avoid transmission of the virus.

Marsh also said the virus seems to be infecting younger people in America at higher rates than in hotspots in China and Italy, and urged young people — whom he said thought they were immune to COVID-19 — to take the precautions seriously.

  • Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said efforts are underway to significantly upgrade the COVID-19 dashboard on the DHHR website.

“We’ve got quite a few different folks helping us put that together,” he said.

Currently, unlike some states that have detailed dashboards, with county-by-county breakdowns, and graphics on issues such as distribution of positive cases by age and gender, the DHHR website provides rudimentary data, denoting total positive tests, total negative tests, deaths and tests pending.

Crouch said he’s hopeful the new dashboard will launch by the first of next week, and said information on the site will be updated three times a day, beginning Friday.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.