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Justice says he wants to be back at Capitol next week after COVID-19 infection

Gov. Jim Justice said he hopes to be back at the state Capitol on Monday after falling ill with COVID-19 earlier this week, according to an interview with Hoppy Kercheval on MetroNews’ Talkline on Friday.

The governor tested positive for COVID-19 late Tuesday night, and was feeling “extremely unwell” then. On Wednesday, he was administered monoclonal antibody treatments which made him feel ”100% better” by Thursday, per previous interviews with his chief of staff, Brian Abraham.

Abraham could not reached for comment on Friday.

Talking to Kercheval Friday, Justice said he knew he was “not sounding that great,” but that his physical symptoms had mostly subsided and he was eager to get back to Charleston.

“It’s driving me crazy being around the house, to tell you the truth,” he said.

According to guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who test positive for COVID-19 and are symptomatic — no matter their vaccination status — should isolate in their homes for at least five days. After the isolation ends, those who tested positive and experienced symptoms should wear a tight-fighting mask anytime they’re around other people for at least 10 days, the CDC recommends.

The governor has been recovering from his infection at his personal home in Greenbrier County, under the medical guidance of his daughter, Jillean Justice-Long, who is a physician, and Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar.

In his Talkline interview, Justice credited being fully vaccinated and boosted, as well as receiving the monoclonal antibody treatments, for him not suffering a more severe COVID-19 infection.

“Governor Justice didn’t end up in the hospital, Governor Justice didn’t end up in the ICU unit or whatever,” he told Kercheval. “There’s no question as tough as this was or is, it’s nothing to fool around with.”

WV sets record for new COVID-19 cases in one week as surge continues

More new COVID-19 cases were reported in West Virginia over the past week than any other since the pandemic began, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ dashboard.

An average of 3,307 new cases have been reported daily over the past seven days. The previous high was an average of 1,978 cases a day for the week of Sept. 10-16 last year.

As of Friday, there were 17,364 active COVID-19 cases — an increase of 2,547 from Thursday – with 5,061 of those reported overnight.

Deaths tied to COVID-19 totaled 5,516, according to the dashboard, with 13 reported overnight.

Hospitalizations totaled 846 on Friday, a decrease of 15 from Thursday. Nineteen of those patients are children, per the dashboard. Of those hospitalized, 206 are in an intensive care unit and 130 are receiving care on a ventilator. Three children are hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the dashboard.

A majority of those hospitalized — 72% — are unvaccinated. That increases to 86% for those in the ICU and 91% for people on a ventilator.

Being fully vaccinated and boosted is the most effective way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization or death from COVID-19.

To date, about 55% of eligible residents — 942,475 individuals — are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates are lowest among children ages 5 to 11, where 11% have been fully vaccinated.

As of last week, booster doses are available for anyone age 12 and older. Booster doses can be administered five months following someone receiving their initial mRNA round of the vaccine, or two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson one-shot.

As of Friday, 38% of eligible residents have received a booster dose.

Organization releases platform for Charleston City Council race

Legalizing marijuana, establishing a municipal broadband system, expanding harm reduction services and raising the city’s minimum wage are all parts of a broad-ranging platform one organization hopes candidates will sign on to in the upcoming Charleston City Council election.

Charleston Can’t Wait, an arm of West Virginia Can’t Wait led by 2020 West Virginia gubernatorial candidate Stephen Smith, released the platform earlier this week.

Co-chairperson Katey Lauer said the platform reflects input from more than 500 people and was formed after a series of events and canvasing efforts over the past nine months.

“We’ve hosted town halls and house parties around the city and got feedback from hundreds of Charleston residents about things they’d like to see for the city,” Lauer said.

The platform-creation process also included feedback from Charleston Can’t Wait volunteers who have led canvassing efforts and events for the organization, she said.

The platform includes addressing homelessness by putting $5 million a year toward a public benefit corporation that would put unemployed people to work building or refurbishing homes, increasing public housing by 1,000 units within 10 years, and facilitating safe camping sites with access to services.

It also includes passing a $15 minimum wage and guarantee paid sick leave ordinance and establishing a West Side Community Development Authority starting with $10 million in American Rescue Plan funds.

The entire platform is posted on the organization’s website,

To address drug overdoses and HIV, the organization proposes building a 24-hour overdose prevention site that would include access to a social worker, harm reduction services approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a safe use site and connections to local non-profits. It also proposes establishing an Office of Recovery and Overdose Prevention, with a $1 million yearly budget.

“We’re staring down a significant overdose crisis and HIV crisis, and these problems don’t happen in a silo, they’re not unique to each other, but they’re a part of an ecosystem that reinforces itself,” Lauer said. “We see a safe injection site as a part of one of the many pieces of the things that the city needs to get out of that spiral.”

Late last year, in an effort to address a surge of overdose deaths, New York City opened the nation’s first two supervised or safe injection sites. At the sites, trained staff reportedly provide clean needles, administer naloxone during overdoses and provide treatment options for people who bring their own drugs to use at the sites.

Proponents say the sites reduce overdose deaths, increase entry to drug treatment and reduce the risk of spreading HIV and hepatitis C by decreasing needle sharing.

Despite state lawmakers and Charleston officials increasing the regulations concerning harm reduction programs last year, city residents see the drug overdose crisis as a significant issue the city as a whole is facing, Lauer said.

“Our experience talking to folks one-on-one at the doors is that folks are interested in comprehensive solutions...” she said. “We don’t have hope that harm reduction will move forward through the current formation of a city council. And of course, as you know, we’ve seen the opposite of that.

“But we are hopeful that the residents of our city sort of see the underlying causes of what’s causing the opioid crisis and that we can we can garner support for candidates.”

With the platform in place, the organization will next look to find Charleston City Council candidates who will support it.

“We’re looking for folks that align with the platform, but we’re also looking for folks that are committed to doing the work to make the platform a reality,” Lauer said. “...For us, the platform is not a symbolic document, it’s a work plan. It’s a job description. And we want to back candidates that treat it that way.”

As of Friday, 15 people had filed to run for a seat on Charleston’s 26-member council, according to the city clerk’s office. The filing period continues through Jan. 29.

So far, six people have applied to the organization for a candidate endorsement in the city council race, Lauer said. She expects that number to increase in the coming weeks. Interested candidates have until Feb. 4 to apply for endorsement.

About 20 people have signed up to attend the organization’s candidate training session Monday as potential candidates or campaign volunteers, she said.

The training session will explain the “nuts and bolts” of what it takes to run for office, she said.

“We’ll cover everything from how do you have a conversation with your family members about whether or not your family is prepared for you to run and prepared to navigate the challenges that might arise from you running to how do you keep track of your finances to how do you make an ask for money to how do you have a one-on-one conversation with someone in your community about your race,” Lauer said.

So far the organization is focused on the Charleston City Council race, but is considering expanding its endorsements to the mayor’s race as well as local board of education and Statehouse races, she said.

In a city with a council made up of 26 members, implementing change would likely require winning more than one or two seats.

Lauer says it’s too early to know how many city council candidates will sign on this year to run on its platform, but the organization sees this election year as the “starting line” for making the city better.

“We see this platform and the budget that it implies as a moral document, as a statement about what the city values and what’s possible,” she said. “It might be that we elect five city councilors this year, and another five in the next election cycle and another five, or it might be that we’re able to build a full slate.

“For us the goal is to set a direction and to set, as you say, an ambitious vision for what’s possible for the city, and to start building toward it. We’re excited to see how far we get this year, and we know that even if we win a full slate, making this path platform come alive will be a long-term project.”

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Study nixes Mars life in meteorite found in Antarctica
Scientists have concluded that a meteorite from Mars contains no evidence of ancient Martian life

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A 4 billion-year-old meteorite from Mars that caused a splash here on Earth decades ago contains no evidence of ancient, primitive Martian life after all, scientists reported Thursday.

In 1996, a NASA-led team announced that organic compounds in the rock appeared to have been left by living creatures. Other scientists were skeptical and researchers chipped away at that premise over the decades, most recently by a team led by the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Andrew Steele.

Tiny samples from the meteorite show the carbon-rich compounds are actually the result of water — most likely salty, or briny, water — flowing over the rock for a prolonged period, Steele said. The findings appear in the journal Science.

During Mars’ wet and early past, at least two impacts occurred near the rock, heating the planet’s surrounding surface, before a third impact bounced it off the red planet and into space millions of years ago. The 4-pound rock was found in Antarctica in 1984.

Groundwater moving through the cracks in the rock, while it was still on Mars, formed the tiny globs of carbon that are present, according to the researchers. The same thing can happen on Earth and could help explain the presence of methane in Mars’ atmosphere, they said.

But two scientists who took part in the original study took issue with these latest findings, calling them “disappointing.” In a shared email, they said they stand by their 1996 observations.

“While the data presented incrementally adds to our knowledge of (the meteorite), the interpretation is hardly novel, nor is it supported by the research,” wrote Kathie Thomas-Keprta and Simon Clemett, astromaterial researchers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“Unsupported speculation does nothing to resolve the conundrum surrounding the origin of organic matter” in the meteorite, they added.

According to Steele, advances in technology made his team’s new findings possible.

He commended the measurements by the original researchers and noted that their life-claiming hypothesis “was a reasonable interpretation” at the time. He said he and his team — which includes NASA, German and British scientists — took care to present their results “for what they are, which is a very exciting discovery about Mars and not a study to disprove” the original premise.

This finding “is huge for our understanding of how life started on this planet and helps refine the techniques we need to find life elsewhere on Mars, or Enceladus and Europa,” Steele said in an email, referring to Saturn and Jupiter’s moons with subsurface oceans.

The only way to prove whether Mars ever had or still has microbial life, according to Steele, is to bring samples to Earth for analysis. NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover already has collected six samples for return to Earth in a decade or so; three dozen samples are desired.

Millions of years after drifting through space, the meteorite landed on an icefield in Antarctica thousands of years ago. The small gray-green fragment got its name — Allan Hills 84001 — from the hills where it was found.

Just this week, a piece of this meteorite was used in a first-of-its-kind experiment aboard the International Space Station. A mini scanning electron microscope examined the sample; Thomas-Keprta operated it remotely from Houston. Researchers hope to use the microscope to analyze geologic samples in space — on the moon one day, for example — and debris that could ruin station equipment or endanger astronauts.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Coal miner dies after fall in Marshall County prep plant, governor says

A coal miner died at a Marshall County site Friday morning, the Governor’s Office said in a Friday evening announcement.

Jeffrey Phillips, 44, a worker for contractor NextGen Industrial Services, died after he fell while working above a beltline in the prep plant of the Ohio County Coal Company’s Ohio County Mine in Marshall County, the Governor’s Office indicated in a statement.

West Virginia was the site of six fatal mining accidents in 2021, the most the state had in any year since 2017, when it suffered eight, according to state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training data.

There have been 28 fatal mining accidents in West Virginia since the start of 2016, according to the state.