Gov. Jim Justice, who, in April, dismissed the idea of offering incentives to encourage people to get COVID-19 vaccinations, on Tuesday unveiled the first round of state vaccination incentive lottery prizes to be awarded on West Virginia Day, June 20.
Top prize that day will be $1 million. Also to be given away are two four-year scholarships to public state colleges, open to ages 12 to 25; two custom pickups; 25 state parks weekend getaway packages; five lifetime hunting and fishing licenses; five custom rifles and five custom shotguns.
“I can’t stand for Ohio to get ahead of us on anything,” Justice said during the state COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.
The governor previously has said the West Virginia lottery is emulating vaccination incentives underway in that state, which includes weekly drawings for $1 million prizes and for college scholarships.
Justice said Tuesday that West Virginia will conduct weekly drawings through Aug. 4, although he indicated there will be no additional large cash prizes until the final drawing on Aug. 4, when there will be a grand prize of $1,588,000 and a runner-up prize of $588,000.
Those prizes are a play on Justice’s “Beat 588 Bad” slogan, based on his assumption that he is reaching out to 588,000 West Virginians who are vaccine hesitant or anti-vaccine.
He said a state website will be set up shortly for residents to register for the lottery drawings.
Contestants must have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines, although the governor did not explain Tuesday how that will be verified when residents register for the lottery.
Justice has said previously that costs of the vaccine incentive lottery will be paid out of unexpended federal CARES Act pandemic relief funds. According to the State Auditor’s Office, West Virginia, as of Monday, had a CARES Act cash balance of $589.92 million of the total of $1.27 billion of funds received last spring and summer.
The governor also said the vehicles and firearms to be given away will be purchased by the government, as opposed to being donated by retailers.
Justice first announced the vaccination incentive lottery at the May 27 briefing, saying, “There’s going to be so many wonderful prizes, it’s absolutely going to blow your mind.”
Vaccination incentive lotteries mark a significant change of heart for the governor, who, as recently as mid-April, dismissed the idea of incentivizing people to get vaccinated.
Asked about offering incentives at his April 18 briefing, Justice responded incredulously, saying, “Should we be paying people to get vaccinated? Really? Should you pay someone in order to try to save their life?”
At his briefing Tuesday, the governor said, “If you just step back and think, “Why in the world would you have to give away something to get people vaccinated? Unfortunately, it’s the way of the world these days.”
Justice’s briefing Tuesday was overshadowed by a Wall Street Journal report published Monday indicating that the governor is personally liable for $700 million of loan debt his Bluestone Resources firm took out from now-bankrupt Greensill Capital, loans sold to Credit Suisse Group, which, according to the article, is attempting to call in the loans.
The loans dominated the question-and-answer portion of the briefing Tuesday, during which Justice confirmed that he is personally liable for the loans but indicated that his companies were victimized by Greensill, which he described as a “bad actor.”
Also during Tuesday’s briefing:
- Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s COVID-19 czar, said the reported 5,602 new cases of COVID-19 in the United States is the lowest daily total since the pandemic began, and is a testimony to the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Despite the encouraging numbers, Marsh added, “We know people in West Virginia who are not immunized are still susceptible to becoming ill.”
- Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch, citing federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, said unvaccinated people should be tested for COVID-19 one to three days before traveling, and within three to five days of returning from travel.
CDC guidelines recommend people delay travel until fully vaccinated, he said.
- Justice said Memorial Day weekend traffic on the West Virginia Turnpike was up 45% from the 2020 holiday weekend.