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With state vaccination rates continuing to tumble, Gov. Jim Justice unveiled a series of initiatives intended to encourage 16- to 35-year-olds to get vaccinated.

Justice at Monday’s state COVID-19 briefing also offered some blunt words to West Virginians who are refusing to be vaccinated, stating, “Buckle up, because a bunch of you are going to die.”

The state administered an average of just over 1,500 vaccine doses a day in the past week.

Justice previously alluded to many of the initiatives he unveiled Monday, but also provided some new ideas, including encouraging businesses to offer discounts or other incentives to patrons who present COVID-19 vaccination record cards showing they have been fully vaccinated.

Initiatives also include expanding efforts to take vaccination clinics to the people, with fixed and mobile vaccination sites at places where people gather, including fairs and festivals, sporting events, churches, bars and restaurants, shopping centers and other retail locations, and county, state and national parks.

Justice said there will be vaccination clinics at all state parks over the busy Memorial Day weekend, with vaccinations available to staff and their families, as well as all park visitors.

He said the state is also working with Senior Services, home health agencies and Meals on Wheels to get participants vaccinated, and is working with hospitals to vaccinate patients upon discharge.

Justice said Monday he is still trying to work the bugs out of an initiative announced last Monday to give $100 savings bonds to 16- to-35-year-olds who get vaccinated.

After claiming last Monday that the savings bonds plan was fully vetted, Justice last Wednesday conceded the details of program had not been worked out, particularly since the bonds are electronic, with no paper certificates.

“I want something someway that the kids can keep,” Justice said Monday, throwing out a new concept of perhaps awarding the $100 on debit cards, along with commemorative silver dollars.

Noting the challenge of securing 200,000 silver dollars, Justice said, “We’re trying to figure it out.”

The governor has previously said the cost of the incentive program will be paid for from unexpended federal CARES Act funds.

According to the state Auditor’s Office, as of April 26, $616.4 million of the $1.27 billion the state received in federal CARES Act funds have not been spent.

Statewide vaccination rates continue to decline in May, after plunging during the month of April, according to data on the Department of Health and Human Resources COVID-19 dashboard.

After peaking at an average of more than 17,000 doses a day in late March, demand for vaccinations fell to an average of fewer than 2,000 doses a day in mid-to-late April, and are down to just over 1,500 doses a day in the past week.

Justice again pleaded with the estimated 588,000 vaccine hesitant West Virginians to cooperate in getting their shots, stressing how state residents rallied to achieve nearly 100% participation in the 2020 census.

Even with that participation, Justice said the state finished “not only dead last, but significantly dead last” in population growth. According to the census, West Virginia’s population declined by 3.2% in the past decade, by far the largest decline of the three states that lost population, resulting in the loss of a congressional seat in the 2022 elections.

Without the high census participation, Justice commented half-jokingly, “My gosh, they might have taken all our seats and declared West Virginia to be a state park.”

Under the U.S. Constitution, each state is allotted at least one member of the House of Representatives.

Also during Monday’s briefing:

n Justice took a moment to mourn the shooting deaths of two high school students, KJ Taylor of Charleston, and on Sunday, DeWayne Richardson of Beckley, stating, “We have got to do a lot of healing in this country. We absolutely cannot tolerate these tragic events.”

However, Justice later said he does not support restoring state gun safety laws that have been repealed or weakened over the past six years, including legislation he signed into law on April 27 barring “red flag” laws that would permit courts to issue temporary orders removing firearms from persons who are shown to pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

“I don’t really believe that the guns are killing the people. I think people are killing people. I have always thought that,” Justice said, adding, “A trillion, billion guns could be lying at one’s access and if we loved each other, we certainly wouldn’t be shooting each other.”

n DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch announced residents may begin registering for state medical cannabis cards at Registrants also have to be certified by a registered physician verifying they have a qualifying medical condition to obtain medical cannabis.

Crouch said medical cannabis should become available in West Virginia in late summer or early fall, more than four years after the state medical cannabis bill became law.

Crouch also said the DHHR is no longer requiring fully vaccinated staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities to undergo COVID-19 testing twice a week.

Unvaccinated staff, including those lacking documentation of their vaccinations, will continue to undergo twice weekly testing, he said.

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