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Now it’s an order. Wear a mask.

West Virginia has joined the growing list of states mandating masks to try to reduce the spread of Covid-19.  Governor Jim Justice’s executive order that took effect at midnight last night requires all West Virginians age nine and above to wear face coverings at all indoor public places where social distancing cannot be maintained.

The order comes as the number of Covid-19 cases in the state is on the rise.  The Department of Health and Human Resources dashboard shows 119 positive cases last Saturday, the most of any day since the pandemic began. That was followed by 87 cases on Sunday, the second most of any day.

The rate of positive cases per test is now moving toward four percent, meaning the higher number of infections is not simply a result of more testing.

Justice’s order is controversial for a variety of reasons.

First, does the Governor have the authority to issue such an order? West Virginia State Code 15-5-6 gives the state’s chief executive authority to act to protect “the safety and welfare of the inhabitants of the state.”

For example, the Governor can order evacuations, control access to certain areas and even suspend provisions of regulatory statues during a state of emergency. Ordering mask-wearing during a pandemic would seem to fall under that statute.

Second, will ordering mask-wearing help slow the spread of the virus? There is plenty of research and expert opinion suggesting that it does.

The medical journal The Lancet recently published a meta-data analysis of 172 observational studies across 16 counties that concluded that wearing a face mask and social distancing helped to reduce the spread.

Additionally, a review of virus statistics in June by the National Governor’s Association found that in states that required mask wearing in public the number of Covid-19 cases declined, but in states where mask wearing was optional, the number of positive cases rose.

Third, how are West Virginians going to respond to being told to wear a mask?  That is the great unknown.  I have done a couple of unscientific online polls and typically about three out of four respondents say they wear masks when in public areas.

Compliance is not about enforcement—there is no penalty for not wearing a mask—but rather on the very personal appeal by Justice and health officials for West Virginians to help each other.

“Our power stops this disease right in its tracks,” Justice said at Monday’s briefing, adding. “If you don’t decide to wear the mask for yourself, do it for the 95 (people) that we have lost.”

Justice also suggested that if the numbers continue headed in the wrong direction, more drastic steps could be in order.  “If we don’t (slow the spread), we’re going to have to pull back and we’re going to start shutting things back down.”

That would be a disaster for the state’s economy, which is struggling mightily to recover from the body blow of the last shutdown.

For those who do not want to follow Justice’s advice for political reasons, then at least pay attention to what West Virginia Covid-19 Czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, says.  He has provided intelligent and practical guidance during the pandemic and he has consistently put his faith in West Virginians to use our power and our altruistic spirit to get through this.

His advice is simple: “We believe masks, face coverings, provide us the best opportunity to protect each other.”

We should follow doctor’s orders.

(Editor’s note:  Here’s a link to me losing my cool with a caller over the the mask issue.)






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Parkersburg Care Center worker tests positive for coronavirus

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A Parkersburg Care Center employee has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department announced Monday.

The health department said the employee first tested negative last Wednesday before showing symptoms the following day.

The employee has not worked at the facility since June 27.

The health department and health facility are working together to reduce the spread of the virus.

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Berkeley County resident enters plea about taking defense information

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Berkeley County resident has admitted to retaining a document containing national defense information to provide the information to Russia.

Elizabeth Jo Shirley, of Hedgesville, told authorities she got possession of a National Security Agency document containing national defense information and fled to Mexico with her child, obstructing the father’s parental rights.

According to U.S. Attorney William Powell’s office, 47-year-old Shirley served on active duty with the U.S. Air Force and received security clearance in August 1994. She later served in the Air Force Reserves and the Navy Reserves.

Between May 2001 and August 2012, she was associated with the Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force and five different cleared defense contractors. She had top-level security clearance at various times during the 11-year period.

The federal office said Shirley went to Mexico “with the intent to make contact with representatives of the Government of Russia” with national defense information on Mexico. She intended to request resettlement to a country that would not extradite her to the United States.

Shirley also had possession of her 6-year-old daughter at the time, and failed to return the child to her father.

The U.S. Marshals Service and Mexican law enforcement located and arrested Shirley in August 2019. Federal agents found the security document in a Martinsburg storage unit.

Shirley faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for a county of willful retention of national defense information in addition to three years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for a count of international parental kidnapping.

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Two recent coronavirus deaths tied to church outbreak

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two of the most recent deaths in West Virginia from the coronavirus pandemic stem from an outbreak at a Greenbrier County church.

Gov. Jim Justice said the deaths of an 89-year-old female and an 84-year-old woman bring the statewide death total from the coronavirus to 95.

“If you’ll remember correctly, we surely had them all in our hopes and our prayers,” he said. “We know that maybe we didn’t do the right things from the standpoint of social distancing and the masks or whatever that was going on within the church, and I hate the outcome.”

Justice said last month 32 members of the Graystone Baptist Church in Lewisburg tested positive for the coronavirus.

The confirmation by the governor came before he announced an executive order requiring people to wear face coverings when entering buildings that are not their own.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced Monday evening 3,442 confirmed cases have been reported to the state, an 86 case increase from Sunday night. Nearly 189,000 tests have been confirmed by state officials.

The department also updated the number of confirmed cases and probable cases in each county: Barbour (17/0), Berkeley (474/18), Boone (24/0), Braxton (3/0), Brooke (14/1), Cabell (161/6), Calhoun (2/0), Clay (11/0), Fayette (72/0), Gilmer (13/0), Grant (15/1), Greenbrier (66/0), Hampshire (42/0), Hancock (29/3), Hardy (44/1), Harrison (79/0), Jackson (145/0), Jefferson (240/5), Kanawha (346/9), Lewis (19/1), Lincoln (9/0), Logan (26/0), Marion (85/3), Marshall (43/1), Mason (21/0), McDowell (6/0), Mercer (57/0), Mineral (56/2), Mingo (20/3), Monongalia (285/14), Monroe (15/1), Morgan (19/1), Nicholas (14/1), Ohio (109/1), Pendleton (13/1), Pleasants (4/1), Pocahontas (30/1), Preston (73/16), Putnam (68/1), Raleigh (62/1), Randolph (169/2), Ritchie (2/0), Roane (11/0), Summers (2/0), Taylor (16/1), Tucker (6/0), Tyler (5/0), Upshur (20/1), Wayne (119/1), Webster (1/0), Wetzel (18/0), Wirt (5/0), Wood (124/8) and Wyoming (7/0).

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Charleston council approves racial action ordinance

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Charleston City Council unanimously passed a resolution at its Monday meeting acknowledging racial inequality and needed action against racial discrimination.

The council’s resolution declares “unequivocally that Black lives matter,” reaffirms the city’s anti-discrimination policies and ordinances, as well as recommits public offices to take further addressing racism. The resolution also notes city officials and council members are committed to taking part in implicit bias training from a “nationally certified training entity or entities.”

Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin introduced the resolution, which every member of the city council sponsored.

Passage of the ordinance came as discussions and debate on race continue nationwide as well as in the Kanawha Valley; city crews removed a plaque from Ruffner Park last week recognizing the Kanawha Riflemen, a Confederate militia unit.

The city council approved another resolution to loan the marker to a state history museum. The Charleston Historic Landmarks Commission will have to prepare a proposal for a new monument and markers recognizing the history of Ruffner Park, in which the Ruffner family gave the land to the city in 1831 for a cemetery.

The council also approved an $80,000 settlement to Freda Gilmore, whom two Charleston police officers beat during an arrest last October. The money will be placed in trust.

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Kanawha school board approves name change of Stonewall Jackson Middle School

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In an unanimous decision, members of the Kanawha County Board of Education voted to change the name of Stonewall Jackson Middle School on Monday.

The vote was 5-0 in front of a socially distanced but large crowd gathered both in the halls and outside of the board office on Elizabeth Street in Charleston.

Following 15 speakers voicing opinions on the move, each board member was given the chance to speak before the vote. Member Ryan White said he voted for the community he represents.

Ryan White

“I have heard from a lot of people in the community. Many people who have wanted to change the name and there have been some people who have not wanted to change the name,” he said.

“I can tell you that the vast majority of people that I have heard from about this issue have said they wanted the name change.”

Jackson, who was born in Clarksburg in 1824 when it was still part of Virginia, served as a Confederate general during the Civil War and owned slaves during his lifetime.  He joined the Confederacy after Virginia’s secession from the United States in 1861.

Jackson died on May 10, 1863, just more than a month before West Virginia officially became a state after seceding from Virginia.

According to the state Department of Education, the West Side school is 42% African American which is the highest proportion among public middle schools in West Virginia  That is compared to 4% of the state’s student population across all grade levels.

The school opened in 1940 as a high school but consolidated in 1989 with Charleston High School to form Capital High School. Board member Jim Crawford said the change should have been done then.

“It’s time we look at this. It should have been taken care of back when they consolidated Charleston High School and Stonewall. It should have never been Stonewall Middle School to begin with,” Crawford said.

A new name has not yet been selected but will be before October 15. Board member Ric Cavender detailed the process, which now goes back to the school officials, on Monday morning’s MetroNews ‘Talkline.’

“If it is going to be someone’s name, descendants still living to that person have to give approval. If they decide to go with a geographical name, for example, West Side Middle School, that’s easier because there are fewer folks to contact,” he said.

Petitions surfaced online over the past month including one with thousands of signatures to change the name to Katherine Johnson Middle School. Many of those people were gathered outside with signs supporting the change and chants of “Change The Name.”

Johnson, a black NASA mathematician and West Virginia State graduate, was instrumental in the early days of America’s space exploration efforts. Other potential names surfacing are Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Woodson, Capital, and West Side Middle School.

New board president Becky Jordon, a Stonewall High School graduate, admitted she has been the most resistant to the change. She voted for it on Monday and said the board and community members must work to change needs on the inside of the school.

Becky Jordon

“Go to Mr. (John) Wilkerson and see what you can do,” she said. “The halls have changed at Stonewall. There are a lot more kids. Students in Stonewall and many schools others have mental illnesses, that are homeless, that are hungry, that cannot read. Let’s step up what is inside that building.

“Yeah, we are going to change what is on the outside of the building but we have a lot more changes to do.”

Superintendent Tom Williams, who took over last week, also supported the measure.

In the meeting, Jordon was elected the new president of the KCBOE. Tracy White was elected the new president pro tem.

In the first act of today’s board meeting, Becky Jordon was elected the new president of the KCBOE. Congratulations, Mrs. Jordon, and thank you to Ryan White for his service as president. Tracy White was elected the new president pro tem. Thank you Mr. Cavender, outgoing pro tem.

— Kanawha County (@KCBOE) July 6, 2020

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Dominion spokesman says Berkshire Hathaway shares same values as transaction involving WV workers nears

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — A spokesman for Dominion Energy says approximately 500 of its employees in West Virginia, who will begin working for Berkshire Hathaway later this year, will learn the new owner operates much the same as Dominion.

“Berkshire Hathaway is an iconic world-class company. They share our values on safety, operational excellence, environmental compliance and I have every confidence that they will be a good corporate citizen in West Virginia,” Dominion Energy Manager of Media Relations Aaron Ruby said.

Dominion explained its decision to sell its gas transmission and storage to the Warren Buffett-owned company during a conference call with investors Monday. Ruby discussed the transaction during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

.@DominionEnergy manager of media relations Aaron Ruby speaks with @HoppyKercheval about he cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 6, 2020

Most of the Dominion workers in West Virginia are based at a facility on White Oaks Boulevard in Bridgeport. Ruby said they would continue to work there.

“They (Berkshire Hathaway) are going to honor all of our union contracts. They guaranteed benefits for all employees for at least two years and no one is going to have to relocate because of the sale,” Ruby said.

Berkshire Hathaway and Dominion hope to close the $4 billion deal before the end of the calendar year. Berkshire Hathaway is taking on $10 billion of Dominion’s debt as part of the transaction.

Dominion, as explained in Monday’s call with investors, is moving more toward a pure-play regulated utility company that will focus on wind, solar and natural gas. Dominion President and CEO Thomas Farrell said Monday the transaction with Berkshire Hathaway was separate from the company’s decision, with Duke Energy, to cancel the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.

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Justice says he’s watching Monongalia County “really close”

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice did not rule out the possibility Monday that some special guidelines might be in order for Monongalia County which has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in recent days.

Gov. Jim Justice

“We’re watching Mon County, we’re watching really close,” Justice said during his coronavirus media briefing at the state capitol. “We’re really, really concerned about all of these kids (WVU students) coming back and the situation could explode.”

The Monongalia County Health Department reported earlier Monday that cases have increased by 61.7 percent since July 1. The county listed 112 active cases.

“Monongalia County has seen a dramatic spike in COVID-19,” Monongalia County Health Department Executive Director and County Health Officer Dr. Lee Smith said. “These cases are from restaurants and bar staff, as well as gyms and fitness centers, vacations, barbecues and travel-related exposures.”

Clay Marsh

State Coronavirus Czar, Dr. Clay Marsh of WVU Health Sciences, said Monday there’s ongoing communication with the local health department.

“We are working closely both at the state level and the university level with Dr. Smith and with the team at DHHR and at the local health department,” Marsh said.

Marsh said it’s possible there will be different guidelines for different parts of the state, something Justice did early on in the pandemic when counties were designated as hot spots.

“As we go then those decisions will certainly be with the governor and the governor’s office but we are constantly developing strategies,” Marsh said.

The health department reported that it’s struggling to contact trace all the new cases and will begin working seven days a week.

I appreciate Governor Justice’s continued effort to keep West Virginians as safe as possible from COVID-19. The mask mandate is the right thing for West Virginia.

— E. Gordon Gee (@gordongee) July 6, 2020

Fall semester classes at West Virginia University are scheduled to begin Aug. 24. The university has already mandated masks to be work on campus. WVU President Gordon Gee tweeted support for Gov. Justice’s statewide mandate Monday afternoon.

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After serving in Afghanistan, Moorefield’s Wil Schoonover hopes for return to football

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Wil Schoonover was making a name for himself as one of the top high school football players in West Virginia during the 2015 season, he was looking for opportunities to compete at the next level.

Five years later, and after serving his country in Afghanistan, Schoonover is hoping he gets his first chance to play a snap at the college level.

Playing for a Moorefield program that has consistently been one of the best Class A programs in the state over the last twenty years, Schoonover excelled as a running back and a linebacker. He amassed over five thousand yards from scrimmage in his career with the Yellow Jackets. Schoonover’s teams won four playoff games from 2013 to 2015, falling to eventual state champion Magnolia in the semifinals in his senior season.

“Our offensive line wasn’t always the biggest. But we probably had a seven-play playbook out of the Wing-T and they had it down pat. That’s what made me so successful running the ball was my offensive line. I tell people all the time that I may have been a good running back but I wouldn’t have gotten over five thousand yards or ninety touchdowns in high school if it wasn’t for those guys.”

Schoonover was offered a walk-on opportunity to play at WVU in the fall of 2016 and the coaching staff was impressed with his abilities as a linebacker. He was also a state champion wrestler and all-state outfielder on the MHS baseball team.

“Mark Scott would come down to Moorefield to talk to me. I was getting visits to watch the games in Morgantown. Everyone from West Virginia, for the most part, wants to play for the Mountaineers. Reed (Williams) was a big factor in that. I always wanted to live up to his aspects.”

A full scholarship opportunity though opened up at Glenville State, and Schoonover signed to join the Pioneers. He was slated to begin the 2016 season as a starter on special teams. However, just prior to the season opener against Urbana, an issue with his transcript came to light.

“I failed a tenth grade English class. I went to a credit recovery course over the summer. I wasn’t getting recruited at this time and I wasn’t thinking about playing college sports.

“When the season was about to begin (at GSC), the athletic director said, ‘Hey, we need to talk’.”

After a call to the NCAA eligibility center, Schoonover was told that credit was not allowed, and he needed to sit out the fall semester. He also lost a portion of his scholarship.

Looking at other options to help pay for his education, Schoonover returned home and enrolled in the United States Army.

“When I came home for Christmas break, I went and talked to the recruiter. Months later, I was leaving for basic training and then I was in the Army. It was a new chapter in my life.”

Following basic training, Schoonover served in the role of Specialist in the 4/25 Brigade 3-509th Airborne Infantry in Afghanistan. They were also known as ‘3 Geronimo’ – Charlie Company 3-509th as part of a reconnaissance and sniper platoon. Schoonover served overseas until May of 2018.

“In that type of environment, you really bond with your comrades regardless of female or male, black or white. You don’t forget those memories when you run out of water or run out of food, you don’t have a proper way to bathe yourself, it is tough. Most people don’t know what it is like until you get over there.”

Schoonover’s military service ended last month and he has since returned to Moorefield. He will be attending West Virginia University this fall and is hopeful that a walk-on opportunity comes available through preseason team tryouts.

“I am already signed up for classes and I have a place to live up there. I am in contact with (defensive analyst) Casey Vance. I am waiting for the word on when walk-on tryouts will be if school is going to happen and if they are going to have football. It is a tough time to walk-on.”

Schoonover is getting back into football shape by training with a pair of former in-state Mountaineers — Moorefield native Reed Williams and Martinsburg native Nate Sowers.

“I live next to the school and I work out in the weight room every day doing cone drills and bag drills. It is stuff I used to do a few years ago. But now I am trying to knock the rust off. I feel I am in the best shape of my life right now though.

“The biggest adjustment would be speed. I weighed 180 pounds my senior year. Now I am 210.”

The odds for any potential walk-on player earning playing time are long and with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, walk-on tryouts may be altered this fall. But Schoonover is looking for the chance to finally compete at the Division I level.

“For 23 years, I have always wanted to play college football. I worked my butt off all the way through high school. This is all about redeeming myself. Everyone expected me to go play football. Everyone expected me to be a great athlete. Now I just have to live up to it.

“I like the challenge. Most people can’t live up to the pressure or don’t like that. I like the atmosphere of people doubting me, saying I am too slow or too small. That’s what makes me have that itch when it is 5 a.m. and I go work out.”

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Atlantic Coast Pipeline cancellation draws lament from construction union leader

A leader of West Virginia’s construction unions expressed deep disappointment about the cancellation of the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.

Steve White

“Terrible day. Pretty sad, but frustrated, frankly,” said Steve White, executive director of the West Virginia Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation.

“A lot of paychecks we just won’t get for local workers, and it’s a terrible loss.”

White was speaking on MetroNews’ Talkline about the project’s cancellation, which was announced Sunday.

Steve White speaks with @HoppyKercheval about the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 6, 2020

At the peak of work, about 5,000 construction workers were expected to be on the pipeline job in West Virginia, White said.

That would have involved welders, equipment operators, laborers and drivers. “For those crafts, devastating,” White said.

He said clearing had been completed and some preparation was underway, but the actual pipeline construction hadn’t yet started.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s path was supposed to have started in Harrison County, continuing through Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties before extending through Virginia and into southeastern North Carolina.

The announcement was made Sunday by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, which were jointly developing the pipeline.

The companies cited “ongoing delays and increasing cost uncertainty which threaten the economic viability of the project.”

The project just had a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the pipeline could cross the Appalachian Trail.

But pipeline construction was challenged on other legal fronts, including federal rulings in Montana that canceled a key permit allowing dredging work across water bodies for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would affect permitting for additional pipeline projects.

“What a rollercoaster,” White said. “We knew there were further challenges ahead. The cancellation no, took me by surprise.”

During a conference call with investors today, Dominion chief executive Tom Farrell noted that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project was first announced in 2014.

Since then, delays have pushed out the timeline and driven up the cost from an original estimate of about $5 billion up to $8 billion.

“For almost six years we have worked diligently and invested literally billions of dollars to complete the project and deliver much needed infrastructure to our customers and communities,” Farrell said.

He said the adverse court rulings and “litigation risks make the project too uncertain to justify investing more shareholder capital.”

“This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States,” he said. “Until these issues are resolved the ability to satisfy the country’s energy needs will be significantly challenged.”

A coalition of environmental groups challenged various aspects of the pipeline’s permitting, saying the projects effects could not be justified and contending it cut too many regulatory corners.

“This is a victory for all the communities that were in the path of this risky and unnecessary project,” stated Greg Buppert, senior attorney for one of the groups, the Southern Environment Law Center.

Shelley Moore Capito

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was among the public officials who expressed disappointment over the cancellation.

“West Virginia is energy rich, and we should make it easier to use energy resources produced right here at home to meet demand across the country,” Capito stated.

White of the Affiliated Construction Trades contended that various levels of regulatory review make it extremely difficult for a large-scale, multi-state project to proceed.

“The process is clearly a flawed process. I mean, six years this has been under way. In the courts. Out of the courts. It’s a hodgepodge of permitting agencies, regulatory bodies,” White said.

“I don’t know how we’re ever going to build our infrastructure given the scenario these outfits face.”

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