State officials on Wednesday began to sketch out plans for getting COVID-19 vaccinations to West Virginians, indicating that nursing homes and health care providers will be the initial priorities.
National Guard Adj. General James Hoyer said the Guard has been working with a Department of Health and Human Resources advisory council to establish a priority list for vaccinations, which could begin with a limited availability of dosages as early as mid-December.
During Wednesday’s state COVID-19 briefing, Hoyer said nursing homes will be a priority, since nursing home residents account for nearly half of the state’s 695 COVID-19 deaths to date.
He said health care facilities are the other priority, particularly as a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations places additional pressure on health care providers.
“The health care system continues to be worked to the maximum capacity,” Hoyer said.
Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar and vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University, later said that while the rise of hospitalizations has increased numbers of health care workers off work because of COVID-19 infections or exposures, “We still have plenty of capacity on our inpatient hospital side, and the ICU side.”
The vaccine produced by Pfizer will be the first available in West Virginia, and Hoyer stressed, “It is a complicated vaccine to distribute.”
The vaccine has to be stored at super-cold temperatures, and has to be broken down on-site into proper dosage levels, he said.
As the COVID-19 vaccines become readily available to West Virginians, Gov. Jim Justice said he plans to be vaccinated on television as a way to encourage residents to get vaccinated.
“I promise you, the very second I can get the vaccine, I’ll be taking it, along with my family,” he said Wednesday.
“We’ve got to encourage, and encourage, and encourage people to get the vaccine,” Justice added.
- Justice lit up social media when he seemingly eschewed recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for restricting Thanksgiving gatherings and travel by stating, “This idea of regulating how many people you can be with, that’s ridiculous. That’s ridiculous. Be with your family. Enjoy your family.”
Asked later to clarify the statement, Justice said he was referring to normal family gatherings of no more than eight to 10 people, and was not suggesting it is “OK to have 128 people in your house.”
“I absolutely do not agree that we should be knocking on people’s doors, saying, ‘How many people are in there?’” he added. “We just have to be smart, and be safe, and enjoy the holiday.”
- Justice said he was unaware that The Greenbrier resort is promoting a Thanksgiving Day “Family Feast,” but said he is certain that the resort, which he owns, will be following all COVID-19 protocols, including temperature checks, social distancing and mandatory mask wearing.
“I promise you this, that place is not dropping the ball,” he said.
- Justice said he meets regularly with state officials to ensure the state will spend all of its $1.27 billion federal CARES Act appropriations by the Dec. 31 deadline, after which, any unspent funds will have to be returned.
“We’re on it, and we’re going to make this thing comes right to the finish line, right as it should,” he said.
According to the state Auditor’s Office, as of Monday, the state CARES Act account had a balance of $824.47 million.