COVID-19 vaccines are now available to any West Virginian 80 years of age or older, Gov. Jim Justice announced at his Wednesday news briefing.
Distribution of these vaccines started Wednesday, Justice said, and will continue through different avenues throughout the next few weeks.
“The faster that we can get shots in the arms of people, especially that are of significant age, the more lives we are going to save,” Justice said.
The vaccines will be sent to 82 Federally Qualified Health Centers for distribution. Staff there will contact those in the patient lists who qualify to receive the vaccines. Justice said residents who are unsure if their providers will receive vaccines, or who don’t have a provider, may call and request to be contacted by another facility.
Additionally, next week, the state will have vaccine events for the elderly at West Virginia National Guard armories across the state, said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the state’s National Guard. These events will be first-come, first-served because of the limited availability of the vaccines. Dates and times will be announced via the state’s COVID-19 website, Justice said.
As of Wednesday, there were 84,225 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in West Virginia, 24,433 of which are active, and 1,318 COVID-19-related deaths.
COVID-19 infections in West Virginia correctional facilities continued to rise Wednesday, as 672 people in the state’s jails and 51 staffers were infected with the virus, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources. While vaccines are being made available to employees at the state’s correctional facilities, only about 60% have opted in to receive them, Justice said.
“That’s just not going to cut it,” Justice said.
Justice did not share any plans to vaccinate those in the jails, saying he needed more information from Corrections. He did not specifying what information he sought.
The first round of vaccinations at long-term care facilities wrapped up Wednesday, Justice said, and the state’s next challenge will be vaccinating teachers and other education employees as some schools prepare to return to in-person instruction on Jan. 19.
Justice said that, right now, alongside vaccine distribution, the state’s top priority is “getting kids back in school.” According to the governor, a third of West Virginia students have fallen behind in a core classes over the past semester.
According to a DHHR study, Child Protective Services referrals are down by an average of about 50% a month, statewide. This means children who need help or might be living in unsafe environments do not have the resources through virtual learning to get the help they need, Justice said.
Also at Wednesday’s briefing, the governor announced that winter sports for high-school students will start in March. It was unclear how this will affect spring sports.