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West Virginia nearing 1,900 coronavirus deaths

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is approaching 1,900 deaths related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest numbers from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Health officials on Sunday reported 23 new deaths, bringing the total for the pandemic to 1,895.

Officials received 555 new cases between the Saturday and Sunday reports. West Virginia has 24,479 active cases and a daily positive test rate of 7.15%.

According to the department, 165,627 first doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered for far. Nearly 40,000 residents have received a second dose.

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State’s new vaccination registration system begins Monday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s new centralized location for registration to be scheduled for a COVID-19 vaccination goes live at 8 a.m. Monday.

Registration will be provided through a link at vaccinate.wv.gov.

“That will allow them to register online themselves,” state Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said.

Secretary Bill Crouch

An online form will see very basic information, Crouch said. It will also ask the person if he or she have any underlying medical conditions.

The state is urging those over 65, school workers over 50 and first responders who haven’t yet been vaccinated to register.

Crouch said those who don’t use the internet can call the state’s COVID-19 hotline to register at 1-833-734-0965. But he stressed the best way will be to register online. He said call waiting could be 2:30 minutes or more.

Those registration will choose one of three ways to be notified with a vaccination slot opens up for them.

“The choices are to get an email back, to get a text back or get a phone call back,” Crouch said. “It actually will communicate back in terms of when the vaccine is available and when your turn comes.”

Crouch said the registrant will then be instructed on the next step to take.

Bill Crouch, Secretary of Health and Human Resources, speaks with Hoppy Kercheval about vaccine distribution across the Mountain State, and centralized vaccine appointments. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/Vw5ZZ3Ifdp

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) January 22, 2021

Crouch said there are thousands of state residents already on a waitlist for vaccination. He said they would not be supplanted by those registering with the new system. He said they would keep their place on the list.

Phone lines at county health departments have been jammed with calls for those interested in getting vaccinated. Crouch said the new system should relieve some of the logjam.

“It takes the load off the call center as well as the local health departments,” he said.

The online registration will be available 24/7. The call-in option will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The option won’t be available on Sundays.

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Manchin, Capito discuss second Trump impeachment trial ahead of article delivery

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate will receive an article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump on Monday, with the chamber scheduled to begin the related trial next month.

West Virginia’s senators and their colleagues will be jurors in the country’s second impeachment trial since January 2020. This time, however, the impeached person is not someone currently holding public office.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., explained the steps of the impeachment trial last Friday; House of Representatives managers will deliver the article of impeachment Monday evening, and senators will be sworn in Tuesday. House managers and Trump’s defense team will have until Feb. 2 to submit a pretrial brief and response to the article respectively.

“During that period, the Senate will continue to do other business for the American people, such as Cabinet nominations and the COVID relief bill, which will provide relief to millions of Americans who are suffering during this pandemic,” Schumer said.

Both parties will present their arguments during the week of Feb. 8.

The House impeached Trump on Jan. 13 for inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, making the 45th president of the United States the first president impeached twice. Ten Republicans sided with House Democrats in approving the article. West Virginia Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller opposed a second impeachment.

Trump will also be the first president to have their impeachment trial happen after leaving office.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. (Office of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin)

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., hoped the House would wait on impeachment to allow Congress to confirm nominees for President Joe Biden’s Cabinet and pass coronavirus legislation.

“I mean, pretty much you could see the evidence unfold before you if you watched television,” he told MetroNews.

“We are still a country of the rule of law. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and (Trump) has the absolute right to defend himself.”

Manchin said Trump incited the riot by encouraging supporters to attend a rally outside of the White House before the violent demonstration, pushing claims of widespread voter fraud, and saying then-Vice President Mike Pence could reject electoral votes.

Manchin, like the article of impeachment, also noted Trump pressured Georgia officials to change the state’s election results.

“With all the things we have seen,” Manchin said, “if there’s an explanation, I want to hear them.”

Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., were in the Senate chamber when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, halting the certification of the presidential election results. Five people died because of the insurrection, and the rioters damaged the legislative building.

“As I look back on that, I’m just incredibly appalled by the invasion into the United States Capitol, the destruction and the trashing of our basic attributes,” Capito said.

As Trump is no longer in office, Capito recognizes the trial is unprecedented and the possible outcomes are not clear.

“That’s a big question, and I’m not sure I have an answer to that yet,” she said.

Manchin said if the House wanted to prevent Trump from holding public office again, legislators should have instead cited Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars public officials from being in office if they led an insurrection or rebellion against the United States.

States ratified the 14th Amendment in the wake of the Civil War.

Manchin said during an appearance on PBS’s “Firing Line” the Senate should consider invoking the 14th Amendment to possibly remove Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Both senators have received backlash for protesting the votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania. Cruz and Hawley announced their objection plans ahead of Jan. 6.

Manchin told MetroNews the more probable punishment for Cruz and Hawley would be citations for violating ethics rules.

“If they were making phone calls during that period of time, if there’s a connection to any of the insurrectionists, any type of fundraising going on during that time in the middle of an attack on the Capitol, that’s up to the Ethics Committee to take up,” he said. “I think they’d be dealt with very harshly, and they should be.”

Seven Democratic senators have asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Cruz and Hawley for their actions, which the lawmakers say “lent legitimacy to the mob’s cause and made future violence more likely.”

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. (File)

Hawley called the request “a flagrant abuse of the Senate ethics process and a flagrant attempt to exact partisan revenge.”

Capito said Cruz and Hawley should not be punished for questioning the election results.

“Quite honestly, if it were me, I would have folded my tent after I saw all of the mayhem that was going on,” she added. “I think it was unfortunate that Sen. Hawley did not do that. He had plenty of opportunities to say, ‘I made my point. I’m moving on.'”

Capito said earlier this month while she has questions about how some states handled the most recent election, the Senate should not reject certified results if there is not evidence of irregularities.

“At an absolute minimum, I believe that Congress should only consider rejecting the electoral votes certified by a state when there is clear and convincing evidence both that there was misconduct in that state’s election and that the result of the election would have been different absent that misconduct,” she said in a Jan. 4 statement.

Trump became the third president to be impeached when the House approved two articles of impeachment in December 2019; legislators charged Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to a phone call involving Ukraine’s leader.

The Senate acquitted Trump in February 2020, in which Manchin found Trump guilty of both charges and Capito twice voted not guilty. Two-thirds of senators have to vote guilty for an impeached individual to be convicted.

The 100-member Senate is split between Democrats and Republicans; Vice President Kamala Harris is responsible for casting a tiebreaking vote if needed.

Manchin said he is not confident there are enough Republican senators who would find Trump guilty. He noted all Democrats would vote to convict Trump.

“You need 17 (Republicans) to make 67,” he said.

Capito said she wants to listen to both sides of the trial before making a decision.

“I’m going to be the impartial juror I was the first time and make my decision at the end of that,” she said.

Ahead of Schumer’s announcement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proposed delaying the trial’s start until mid-February. McConnell has said Trump and “other powerful people” provoked the demonstrators, but McConnell has not publicly stated how he will vote.

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Stress relief task force at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine links students to pandemic support

GREENBRIER COUNTY, W.Va. — In many cases, different methods of support for students at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, located in Lewisburg, in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic are originating with the school’s Stress Relief Task Force.

“It’s hard enough to go through medical school, yet to go through med school during the COVID pandemic is unprecedented,” said Dr. James Nemitz, WVSOM president.

Julianna Quick, a learning specialist and student counselor, and Dr. Roy Russ, associate dean for preclinical education, first had the idea to create a forum for students to make administrators aware of their concerns.

Launched in September, WVSOM’s Stress Relief Task continues to be made up of one student from each of the graduating classes along with faculty from biomedical sciences, clinical sciences and the osteopathic principles and practice departments.

Additionally, staff from WVSOM’s Clinical Evaluation Center are involved along with staff from the National Boards and Exam Center, the Statewide Campus, Office of Student Life and the Office of the President.

All meet at least once a month.

Questions about personal protective equipment , details of higher education aid in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act, and access to stress-relieving activities like virtual yoga sessions or socially-distanced art class have been addressed.

“We recognized very early on the huge mental health impact it (the pandemic) has on students especially, but also on employees,” said Nemitz.

“We’re constantly messaging, looking for opportunities and reaching out because everybody’s under duress. Everybody is experiencing loss in some way and I think it’s the responsibility of my institution to reach out to our students, to our employees and to the community.”

For months now, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine has operated with many courses online, largely lectures, as part of COVID-19 protocols.

“There are still hands-on experiences that are just essential for medical education and those are ongoing, but we’re doing it safely,” said Dr. Nemitz.

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WVU returns to action with comfortable win at K-State, 69-47

(Bob Huggins postgame Zoom conference)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Kansas State turned the ball over 28 times as the Mountaineers matched their most lopsided win margin of the year, defeating the Wildcats 69-47 win at Bramlage Coliseum. West Virginia held a double-digit lead for 34 of the final 35 minutes of the contest.

With eleven scholarship players available following a two-week break from games due to COVID protocols, Bob Huggins inserted Jordan McCabe and Taz Sherman into the starting lineup for the first time this season. Jalen Bridges, Derek Culver and Deuce McBride completed the starting five.

The WVU program never officially paused all team activities, but only four players were able to practice at the team facility while three games were postponed. The entire roster was brought together Friday for practice for the first time in almost two weeks.

“I thought it was the biggest win of the year because we were coming off a loss in a game we could have, should have won. And then we get hit with the COVID-19. We really hadn’t had a time where — we were down to basically four guys, not all because of COVID but because of contact tracing.”

West Virginia led wire-to-wire after opening the game on a 10-2 run before the first media timeout. Bridges canned a 3-pointer and added a slam dunk on consecutive possessions during that run.

The Mountaineers would quickly extend their lead to 21-4 midway through the first half, thanks in large part to their defensive effort and K-State’s inability to take care of the basketball. The Wildcats had 14 turnovers on their first 21 possessions of the game. K-State gave it away 18 times in the first half, leading to 14 points for the Mountaineers.

WVU head coach Bob Huggins (left) and Sports Information Director Bryan Messerly (Photo by Scott Weaver/K-State Athletics)

After jumping out to the 17-point lead, WVU’s offense bogged down late in the first half. The Mountaineers scored just ten points in the last nine minutes, and they connected on just 3 of their last 12 field goal attempts to close the half. The Mountaineers still led comfortably, 31-17 at the break.

“From a defensive standpoint, I was pleased. Our defense is really what got us that lead,” Huggins said.

McBride led WVU with a dozen points in the opening twenty minutes. Ten Mountaineers played at least four minutes in the first half.

“Obviously I thought we were a little rusty on offense,” McBride said. “But on defense, I thought we stepped up big. We knew we were going to struggle to make shots at times and a lot of guys had to get back into it. But defensively, we probably played some of the best defense all year.”

The Wildcats trimmed their deficit to ten points before the first media timeout of the second half. Selton Miguel scored seven points in the first four minutes, as the Wildcats cut the margin to 36-26.

WVU’s Derek Culver (Photo by Scott Weaver/K-State Athletics)

KSU (5-11, 1-7 Big 12) crept within 8 points but the Mountaineers doubled the lead back to 16 points with an 8-0 run. A Bridges dunk was followed by back-to-back triples from Taz Sherman, extending WVU’s cushion to 44-28. West Virginia led by double digits for the remainder of the contest.

McBride paced with Mountaineers with an 18-point effort. He also dished out 5 assists. Bridges notched his second double-figure game, scoring 12 points while going 5-for-6 from the floor.

“I feel like I am starting to come along a little bit,” Bridges said. “I am just playing with confidence. My teammates trust me and I trust my teammates. We’re together out there.”

Sherman added 10 points. Culver fouled out with 3:54 left. He scored 8 points and pulled down 4 rebounds. Freshman forward Seny Ndiaye earned a career-high 9 minutes in his most significant action as a Mountaineer.

“Seny was one of the guys that we could work with (during the last two weeks). I wanted to see what he could do,” Huggins said.

“Seny is a guy that, the only thing he cares about is winning,” Bridges said. “He doesn’t care about if he scores. He doesn’t care about how many rebounds he gets or how many blocks he gets. He just wants to win. And with that, he plays with unlimited energy. He is a raw athlete and he looked really, really good today.”

Mike McGuirl led the Wildcats with 15 points. WVU scored 26 points off the 28 KSU turnovers.

“We knew they were a young team. And when you can force a young team into hard situations and have them make a lot of mistakes and turnovers, there was a lot of momentum going our way. It turns into easy offense if we don’t have to use our half court offense,” McBride said.

The Mountaineers (10-4, 3-3 Big 12) face a quick turnaround, hosting No. 12 Texas Tech (11-4, 4-3 Big 12) Monday in Morgantown. Tip time is set for 9 p.m.

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West Virginia GOP acting chairman seeking election to position

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The acting chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party is seeking to become the party’s next official chairman.

Roman Stauffer

Roman Stauffer began serving as acting chairman earlier this month after Melody Potter resigned from the position to focus on her family.

“I have worked in the trenches of conservative politics and campaigns, helping elect Republicans across the state. My experience is all encompassing, from College Republicans to Young Republicans, to precinct worker to local county chairman, to guiding statewide campaigns to historic victories, to serving in the West Virginia Republican Party’s leadership,” Stauffer said in a press release Friday.

Stauffer most recently served as campaign manager for Gov. Jim Justice’s reelection campaign.

“I am the best person to guide our Party to transition into this next chapter,” he added.

Stauffer will serve as acting chairman until the state GOP’s winter meeting in March.

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Late run pushes Herd past FIU 89-72 to sweep the weekend

By David Walsh

MIAMI  – In a game of runs, Marshall had the best run when it counted. At the end.

Darius George banked in a 3-pointer to break a 62-62 tie and propel the Thundering Herd past Florida International, 89-72, Saturday afternoon at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center for a sweep of the two-game Conference USA series.

George’s big three came with 9:02 left in the game and triggered a strong closing surge as seen by the 27-10 scoring edge in the closing minutes.

Taveion Kinsey, the league’s top scorer at 20 per game, responded after an off Friday with 22 points and 12 rebounds, team highs in both categories and another double-double. He had 10 points in Friday’s 79-66 win.

Andy Taylor continued his strong play with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting along with six rebounds. Freshman David Early (Logan, W.Va.) hit for a career-high 14 and George closed with 10.

“The kids I thought when they got their legs back under them, they played fairly well,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said of the Herd’s post-game radio show. “Got great contributions from Early and from George. Andy’s getting better and better. TK is starting to come back to his old self.”

FIU, which has lost four straight, got to within six at 72-66 on a Dante Wilcox layup with 6:35 to play. The Herd put the clamp on that comeback with a 9-0 run to make it 81-66 with 4:05 to go.

FIU (8-8, 2-6 C-USA) entered the game averaging 11 three-pointers per game and finished 11-of-35 from behind the arc. Jauvante Hawkins led FIU with a career-high 20 points coming off the bench. He had six threes. Antonio Daye Jr. finished with 18.

“Those guys move the ball,” D’Antoni said. “You’ve got to guard them every inch. You have to cover the entire area.”

D’Antoni’s record against the Panthers now is 9-1 with nine straight wins after a loss in the first meeting after took over the Herd.

Marshall (9-4, 3-3 C-USA) returns home to play Florida Atlantic in a C-USA twinbill next weekend. Game times are Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. C-USA teams are playing on successive days over the weekend due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Attendance is limited. Saturday’s game had 128 fans due to COVID-19 protocols.

George’s go-ahead three got his coach chuckle on the sideline.

“I turned around to laugh at the assistant coaches,” D’Antoni said. “He’s always good for one bank every game. He gives you his heart.”

Early continues to progress as he continues to trim down.

“He’s responded so far,” D’Antoni said about Early’s weight loss. “It will help with his feet. Be better at the defensive end. He’s starting to do what he does in practice.”

The first half was a series of runs as well. The Panthers went on a 10-0 run to go from 15-14 behind to 24-15 ahead for its biggest lead.

Marshall would later go on 9-0 run to pull even at 24-24 and Early would moments later score to put the Herd up 28-26. George would then make a 3-pointer to give the Herd a 30-26 lead thanks to a 15-2 surge.

Taylor’s 3-point play and a three-pointer by Jannson Williams 10 seconds before halftime gave the Herd a 43-36 lead at the break.

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Saturday COVID case numbers show increase

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Technical issues caused a delay in the Saturday release of COVID-19 numbers from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

The report, which usually is released at 10 a.m. daily, didn’t come out until just before 4 p.m.

The new numbers do show an increase in confirmed cases. Daily case numbers were 545 in Friday’s report but grew to 1,137 on Saturday. The DHHR confirmed 17 deaths in the latest report, taking the overall number to 1,872.

The deaths include an 80-year old male from Summers County, an 88-year old male from Summers County, a 65-year old female from Cabell County, an 87-year old male from Hampshire County, an 83-year old male from Wood County, an 84-year old male from Wood County, a 69-year old male from Pleasants County, a 64-year old female from Wood County, a 76-year old male from Harrison County, a 69-year old female from Preston County, a 65-year old male from Nicholas County, a 95-year old male from Lewis County, a 68-year old male from Preston County, a 62-year old male from Wood County, an 89-year old female from Wood County, an 81-year old female from Wyoming County, and a 70-year old female from Logan County.

Hospitalizations are now at 624 which is the lowest number of COVID-19 patients in the state since Dec. 6.

Most counties on the COVID-19 daily alert map are designated as gold. There were a few more gold counties reported Saturday.

West Virginia once again has the lowest estimated rate of spread in the nation. Its Rt Value Saturday was .83.

The state reported Saturday that it’s used all of the 156,300 doses of vaccine that it targeted for the first round of shots. It has used 51% of doses set aside for the second round.

.@WV_DHHR reports as of January 23, 2021, there have been 1,831,351 total confirmatory laboratory results received for #COVID19, with 114,752 total cases and 1,872 total deaths. https://t.co/GXRv8WhpZS pic.twitter.com/FH6ljs77Ev

— WV Department of Health & Human Resources • 😷 (@WV_DHHR) January 23, 2021

Overall cases per county include Barbour (1,057), Berkeley (8,469), Boone (1,372), Braxton (721), Brooke (1,837), Cabell (6,728), Calhoun (202), Clay (324), Doddridge (393), Fayette (2,274), Gilmer (549), Grant (946), Greenbrier (2,137), Hampshire (1,302), Hancock (2,380), Hardy (1,136), Harrison (4,215), Jackson (1,545), Jefferson (3,139), Kanawha (10,628), Lewis (782), Lincoln (1,093), Logan (2,218), Marion (3,122), Marshall (2,640), Mason (1,470), McDowell (1,183), Mercer (3,795), Mineral (2,403), Mingo (1,847), Monongalia (6,741), Monroe (849), Morgan (848), Nicholas (990), Ohio (3,218), Pendleton (518), Pleasants (749), Pocahontas (545), Preston (2,336), Putnam (3,647), Raleigh (3,883), Randolph (2,085), Ritchie (527), Roane (437), Summers (645), Taylor (955), Tucker (430), Tyler (540), Upshur (1,406), Wayne (2,220), Webster (236), Wetzel (952), Wirt (310), Wood (6,302), Wyoming (1,477).

 

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Park and Preserve status brings change at New River Gorge

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — The much-talked-about plan to turn the New River Gorge National River in West Virginia into the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is complete.

Although the matter had been discussed and debated for more than a year, the passage of the measure in an omnibus spending package in December was a surprise to some.

Lizzie Watts

Park Superintendent Lizzie Watts said the changes won’t be all that noticeable.

“I’m not sure there will be a lot of change. There will be some where we’ve reduced hunting in the Gorge, but I think what the Park and Preserve does is really highlight the four most spectacular parts of the park,” Watts said.

Those fours parts include the deepest section of the Gorge in the area of the New River Gorge Bridge and downstream, the historical area surrounding the town of Thurmond, Sandstone Falls, and Grandview.

“Those areas visitors from around the world and even our neighbors know are very special environments. So those are the areas that were put into the park,” she said.

Watts added the change elevated the status of the New River Gorge area in the eyes of the nation.

“It does state we are one oft the more significant natural resources. When you become a National Park you’re one of the more significant areas in the country,” she said.

The change was pushed hardest by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito and later with support from U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. Rafting companies and those whose business depends on visitors were also strong backers. Advocates of the park touted the elevated status as one which will automatically increase visitors. But not everybody was on board, as Watts mentioned, local hunters had to give up territory which had long been hunting grounds for generations.

The gorge on a wintry day.(Photo/Adventures on the Gorge)

Robert Seay has fished and hunted in the Gorge with his family for decades. He told West Virginia Public Broadcasting the loss of those traditional hunting grounds was crushing.

“It’s not just about the hunting. The deer or the game is just a bonus. It’s doing what your family’s done where you learned to do it.” said Seay. “I learned to hunt in the gorge — with my father — that’s where I learned trees, learned direction.”

Some have rationalized much of the land which was put off limits to hunting with the National Park status was extremely rugged terrain and not conducive to hunting. Seay explained to Public Broadcasting, the argument is a non-starter.

“It is tough hunting. It is tough country. And that’s why those animals are there. That’s why those deer are there, because they’re not easy to get to.” he said.

Watts acknowledged hunters were the one group forced to make a sacrifice. She said they tried to offer a concession by opening up some federal property which had long been off limits to hunting.

“Because we had some hunters who were concerned about losing any acreage to hunting, we did decide to open some of the area of Grandview that has not been hunted in over 100 years because it used to be a State Park before the National River was created. We will open some of that to hunting to offset some of the areas they’ll be losing in the Gorge,” Watts explained.

According to Watts, about 300 acres in the Grandview area in the lower area along the river will be the new area available for hunters this fall.

As for how much the new park status will generate in new visitors, Watts said it’s hard to say.

“We anticipate some, but we don’t know how much. Covid has changed the world and visitation to a lot of park areas went up, just because the outdoors are now known to a whole new generation of folks who probably had never been in the outdoors. We don’t know how to anticipate what that will do for this year,” she said.

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Little changes to unemployment in December

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s unemployment rate remained consistent through December, in sync with the national trend.

According to WorkForce West Virginia, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.3% in December compared to the national 6.7% rate.

The number of unemployed West Virginians increased by 100 people to 48,600, while total employment grew by 3,400 positions over a month.

West Virginia’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased from 5.8% to 6.1% in December.

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