After telling West Virginians they’ll “get through this” pandemic together, Gov. Jim Justice diverted his Thursday COVID-19 briefing to criticize Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin’s request to have a special session to address challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.
Goodwin’s letter was addressed to Justice and legislative leaders. In it, she listed initiatives undertaken by the city to support people struggling with homelessness, substance use disorder and mental health. There also were seven recommendations for the West Virginia Legislature to implement statewide that Goodwin believes will improve support systems locally, for all municipalities.
Justice, in the briefing, was not pleased.
“Make no mistake — what is this really all about?” Justice said. “It’s nothing but a political move to cover up [Goodwin’s] deficiencies.”
Justice railed against the city of Charleston, painting a grim picture of the capital city he claims to live in where there is “tragedy all over the place.” He questioned why anyone would want to replicate social service models created in Charleston — which service providers in the region regularly praise. He made dubious, derogatory claims about the city’s crime rates, leadership and atmosphere.
Justice’s diatribe included no mention of the pandemic’s effects on marginalized groups, including those who are homeless and who use drugs, or the increase in need reported consistently by service providers in the Kanawha Valley over the past 18 months.
As he finished, Justice took one last parting shot at Goodwin, calling her “baby.”
“Amy, baby, listen,” he said, “if you can get the Legislature to go along with this, I’m all in.”
In a statement sent via text message Thursday, Goodwin urged people to look past the “sexist remarks” and realize that this is “unfortunately what women across the country experience daily.”
“For now, let’s forget about the hateful and sexist remarks and get back to the important issues. The challenges with mental health, substance use disorder and homelessness — across the state — are clear. In fact, all cities in West Virginia are being asked to carry the burden of failing federal and state systems,” Goodwin wrote. “Ignoring or blaming someone else for these failures is exactly what has gotten us to the place we are now in in the Mountain State.”
In an interview earlier this week, Goodwin said the letter was a push for West Virginia’s leaders to examine how state systems complicate local responses to such issues. She wants to see a robust, proactive plan created to help localities across the state.
The problem, she said, isn’t with local initiatives or resources, but with the broken systems they are forced to work in that fail to help people in need.
While Justice noted Thursday that these problems are clear and obvious in Charleston — “if you all could see the mess that’s going on right here,” he said — he did not offer any support to help overcome them. He claimed that Goodwin is requesting assistance as “a political move” and accused her of trying to “bash all of West Virginia” to “get her name in the paper.”
Despite Justice’s scathing comments, Goodwin said Thursday that legislators from both sides of the aisle have already reached out to her about the request, to see “how they can be helpful moving forward.”
“I’m looking forward to working with them and the governor’s team on the seven proposals and three pieces of legislation I submitted earlier this week,” Goodwin said. “We need to get past the politics and get back to work.”
Justice’s outburst against Charleston came in what was an odd COVID-19 briefing, where news on the virus remained short and unrelated announcements and presentations filled the time. This was despite nearly 10 minutes passing at the beginning of the news conference as Justice read the information about the 97 West Virginians who had died from COVID-19 between Monday and Thursday.
“That’s more than we’ve ever had to read before,” the governor said.
As of Thursday, there were 11,629 active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia, and 3,866 total COVID-19-related deaths. Hospitalizations are slowly falling from September highs, with 870 people hospitalized with the virus on Thursday. Of those patients, 255 were receiving care in intensive care and 176 were on ventilators.
Vaccinations in the state are still creeping along, with still only 52% of eligible residents fully vaccinated, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Resources’ dashboard. Breakthrough cases now account for 20% of people hospitalized in the state, although most of those people are older and have underlying conditions, Justice said.
The breakthrough cases, he continued, are evidence that eligible people (those 18 and older who initially receive a full round of the Pfizer vaccine, and who meet guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) need to get their booster shots.
The governor said Thursday he believes the current surge is starting to slow in the state but that people still need to get vaccinated to ensure as many lives as possible are saved.
“We’re going to get through this, West Virginia, but please keep these people in your prayers,” Justice said. “This is the impact of the surge at its peak. We’re going to have more people die, but our active cases are down.”