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Manchin tours mail facilities amid growing concerns about services

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Despite a delay in closing three U.S. Postal Service locations in West Virginia and reducing hours at other sites, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is urging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to maintain postal services.

Postal Service officials announced the plan in July, but DeJoy delayed the action after calls from postal workers opposing the actions.

Manchin, who toured four Postal Service locations on Friday, told reporters contacting DeJoy is difficult.

“He won’t talk to anybody,” Manchin said. “Not a congressman or a U.S. senator, which is unbelievable.”

Manchin previously wrote to DeJoy criticizing the planned action. He has also sponsored legislation to prevent the closure of any facility that opened before Jan. 27, 2020.

The senator’s stops on Friday included visits to the Sutton post office, the Clarksburg mail distribution center, the post office on Fairmont’s East Side neighborhood, and Morgantown mail distribution annex. Postal workers and local lawmakers joined Manchin for some of the stops.

“I’ve asked everyone on a local level and on a district level and higher-ups to please let me know if things are changing,” he said. “Interruptions of service could be costly to the confidence people have in this system.”

The Washington Post on Friday reported the Postal Service has warned 46 states and Washington, D.C. that it cannot guarantee election officials will receive absentee ballots on time as the agency undergoes cost-cutting actions.

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Thomas Health’s Chapter 11 plan gets approved

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The plan for Thomas Health to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy has been approved.

Thomas Health and its subsidiaries announced on Friday that is has reached an agreement with a new capital partner to fund a Chapter 11 plan of reorganization that allows the health system to emerge from Chapter 11 just over seven months after it sought protection in January.

According to a news release, the plan includes terms that provide for the discounted refunding of nearly $145 million in outstanding bond debt.

Rosemawr Management will provide the exit financing for Thomas Health.

“To be in the position to file a viable plan that will restructure and strengthen our balance sheet, while maintaining and continuing to treat our patients, especially during times as unprecedented as the last 90 days, is a testament to the hard work for our employees,” President and CEO Dan Lauffer said in a release.

Thomas Health anticipates the required documents and financing will be completed by mid-September.

Thomas Health in Kanawha County serves approximately 275,000 patients annually and employs approximately 1,650 people, according to a hospital news release sent in June.

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WVU Football Training Camp Day #5 report (Aug. 14)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After a light walk-through practice on Thursday, WVU head coach Neal Brown picked up the intensity on Day 5 of Mountaineer preseason training camp.

“Coming off a slow day yesterday, I thought we were a little slow getting started,” Brown said. “But we coached them hard today and I thought they responded at the end of practice. It was warm and we need warm days. And we had some real growth. Some of our better players really stepped up.

“We wanted to push them. We are doing it in a smart way because we are going out here for a short time.”

Brown mentioned wide receivers Sam James, Isaiah Esdale and Ali Jennings, running back Leddie Brown, offensive lineman James Gmiter, safeties Sean Mahone, Tykee Smith and Noah Guzman, kicker Evan Staley and defensive lineman Akeem Mesidor as standout players in today’s practice sessions.

Brown said the team will practice inside Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday and will workout in full pads. Full contact tackling drills may still be a few days off.

“We are not being real physical right now. But we are really pushing them mentally to push through some of the fatigue.

“A lot of the guys in our program haven’t practiced the way we want to practice because they haven’t been here. We had two spring practices and now we have had four true football practices.”

Brown believes at this point that the deepest unit on the WVU roster could be the receiving core.

“A lot of them are young so we have to continue to grow them up. Gerad (Parker) is doing a great job with those guys. I think the most depth we have on our football team is at that position.”

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119th Pinch Reunion is a go for this weekend

ELKVIEW, W.Va — It will take more than a worldwide pandemic to stop the nation’s longest-running community reunion. The 119th Pinch reunion will happen this year live from the reunion grounds in northern Kanawha County.

“This event has taken place through the Depression, wars and armed conflicts, the Civil Rights movement, and natural disasters. We will not let a pandemic stop the Pinch Reunion this year,” said David Frecks, a member of the reunion committee in an appearance on MetroNews Talkline Friday.

However, it’s unlikely the original organizers of the reunion more than a century ago could have ever envisioned anything quite like the plan for the 2020 events.

“There’s going to be a rock concert with just a few people there to run the thing There will be nobody to watch, but it will be live on our Facebook Page and we hope people will tune in an check it out,” said Frecks. 

The committee decided to make the reunion a virtual event as much as possible. A concert will originate live and streamed to Facebook from the actual grounds of the reunion and Frecks said that was extremely important.

“Back when we were gifted the property we use, in the contract it said in order to keep the property and use it we had to have an event every year and not miss a year,” Frecks explained. “We decided the only way we could do it within the Governor’s guidelines was to do something virtually, but we wanted to do it live from the property to honor the spirit and essence of the contract to continue the reunion properly. “

A couple of other virtual events like a 5-K run and car show didn’t work out quite as well as organizers had hoped. Frecks believes most of us are burned out on virtual anything as a replacement for a live event. However, there was a reunion pageant the winners will be announced from the stage just ahead of the concert.

The concert gets started Saturday evening live on the Pinch Reunion West Virginia Facebook Page. 

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Marshall-East Carolina game pushed back 2 weeks

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Marshall’s season opener at East Carolina has been delayed two weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Herd will visit the Pirates on Saturday, September 12. The game will originally scheduled in the ‘Week Zero’ slot on August 29.

IT’S OFFICIAL! @HerdZone and @ECUPiratesFB will hit the gridiron on Saturday, September 12! #WeAreMarshall pic.twitter.com/y2D96k79yn

— Marshall Football (@HerdFB) August 14, 2020

The 75 members and supporters of the Marshall football program who died in the 1970 plane crash while returning from a game in Greenville will be remembered in ceremonies.

“We are grateful to (Athletic Director) Jon Gilbert and everyone at East Carolina University for their efforts in making sure this game stayed on the schedule due to the tremendous significance for both institutions,” said Marshall Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick. “Our people, our universities and our football programs will forever be linked by the tragedy that occurred 50 years ago.”

Marshall and ECU are also set to meet three more times: September 18, 2021 in Huntington, September 9, 2023 in Greenville and September 13, 2025 in Huntington. ECU leads the all-time series 10-5.

Speaking on MetroNews Talkline on Wednesday, Hamrick said Marshall is still looking to fill vacant slots on their schedule caused by the cancellation of the Pittsburgh, Ohio and Boise State games.

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Metrics announced to approve H.S. sports activities on county-by-county basis

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In coordination with the WVSSAC, Governor Jim Justice detailed a color-coded system to approve or halt in-person instruction and athletics for school systems around West Virginia. Justice made the announcement at Friday’s COVID-19 response press briefing.

Four phases are in place (green, yellow, orange and red) based on the percentage of cases in a county per 100,000 people. The details are listed on the graphic below and the map is now posted on the DHHR website.

Although the county-by-county map was not unveiled at the press briefing, Justice mentioned that as of now, Logan County would be in the red category (no extracurricular activities). Grant and Mingo Counties would be listed in the orange category (practices only/no competitions).

All fall sports in West Virginia are set to begin mandatory, official preseason practices on Monday, August 17. Logan County teams will not be able to begin preseason practices as scheduled.

“Coaches and administrators have shown that they can handle and they can follow the guidelines,” said WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan. “We think we have done it very well and very safely. Our color code works hand-in-hand with the color code for the schools.”

Dolan is hopeful that the publication and daily updates of the map will get counties and individual communities invested in allowing students to return to school and student-athletes to return to practices and competitions.

“We think that this system will allow communities to get behind the initiative to move the color closer to green and then finally get to green. There will be incentives for communities to move. We think that with our coaches and administrators and players all leading the way, we think that we are going to head in the right direction.

“I don’t know of another plan that is out there that is like this — that incentivizes the community to get better. Not only to be healthier, but allow more activities to go on.”

Dolan added that the WVSSAC with work with administrators regarding fan attendance at games when schools enter the green and yellow phases.

(This story will be updated)

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Justice reveals ‘metric’ to show whether counties are safe to keep schools open

Gov. Jim Justice introduced a color-coded measurement system meant to show whether it’s safe for schools to be open — and for sports to be played.

“There’s no state that we know of that has a rating system that is similar to what we propose to do,” Justice said today.

Coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh said, “this is a very safe and innovative approach.”

MORE The system is described here.

Governor Justice

Justice said the state would use a 7-day rolling cumulative positive number. The system uses a percent determined by the number of cases per 100,000 people.

“Each county in our state will receive a code — green, yellow, orange or red code that will change daily,” he said.

Cases from 0 to 7 per 100,000 equals green, 8 to 15 is yellow, 16 to 24 is the orange zone, and if you exceed 25 is red.

Red triggers distance learning only.

“If we go red in any county, that county will automatically go 100 percent virtual,” Justice said.

That would suspend in-person instruction and all school-related activities until yellow level is maintained on a seven-day rolling basis.

Under red, staff would continue essential student support services including meals, student engagement and special education services.

School systems will know definitively where they stand at 9 p.m. Saturdays when the system locks into place with a determination for the week.

Right now, Justice said Logan County would be considered red with Mingo and Grant counties orange.

But he said he wants to give all counties time to improve their condition before school starts.

On the target return date of Sept. 8, all counties identified as green and yellow may begin in-person instruction and may maintain their status as long as levels remain steady.

Counties with orange or red levels would not be permitted to open to in-person instruction until yellow or green levels are reached on a seven-day rolling basis.

After opening, if a county bumps up to orange, it may continue to operate but with heightened precautions.

“It’s been complicated, I know,” Justice said.

Justice’s plan also takes into account outbreaks at congregate settings such as nursing homes or correctional facilities. He said those outbreaks would be counted as single units for the purpose of the metric. Positive cases among staff members would be divided by two for the calculation “to not become biased or not become skewed.”

“I know it’s a little complicated, but we’ve tried to make it completely transparent,” Justice said.

The governor has said he wants to return to classrooms while assuring the health of students, teachers and staff.

For a couple of weeks, Justice has described a color-coded map that would depict whether the level of virus spreading in counties would allow school to remain open. But the factors to determine whether a community’s status is red, orange, yellow or green had not yet been revealed until today.

School systems around the state have been producing plans for students to return at a target date Sept. 8. Most have been offering options to families, who must choose.

Dale Lee

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, citing a survey of teachers union members, said most do not feel comfortable returning to classrooms yet.

“There’s just many concerns about being able to follow all the CDC guidelines, the social distancing, they need a smaller class size in place, they ability of all students to wear a mask,” Lee said on MetroNews “Talkline” today.

“A large percentage of our members felt more comfortable starting in a virtual mode and getting these things taken care of.”

The WVEA has pointed toward decisions being handled at the local level. Counties across the state have prepared their own reentry plans.

“But let me say this and be clear, we’re going to support our members and our counties in any decision they make,” Lee said today.

We have had several counties who have worked with their superintendents and their administration to come up with a plan that they feel comfortable with, and if our members feel safe and comfortable with the plan and are comfortable with going back in person on some type of level, either a hybrid level or something like that, we’re going to support them in that too.”

.@WVEADaleLee talks to @DaveWilsonMN about reopening of schools. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/U7luRnkbEF

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) August 14, 2020

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Protected: West Virginia Invests grant program paving way for tuition-free college

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Two killed in Grant County vehicle wreck

GRANT COUNTY, W.Va. — Two people died this week in a vehicle wreck in Grant County.

Deputies with the Grant County Sheriff’s Department said one vehicle, a 1995 Toyota Tercel, was involved in the Wednesday crash along Route 93 in Scherr near the Dam Site Road.

The driver, who deputies identified as Seth Workman, no age available, of Keyser, was thrown out of the vehicle.

Workman was transported by helicopter to WVU Medicine’s Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.

Two passengers in Workman’s vehicle were killed when it flipped and hit a tree, according to investigators.

The victims were a juvenile female who had been in the front seat and Tucker Weed, no age available, of Keyser, who was in the back of the car.

Deputies said speed was a factor in the crash.

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Four additional state COVID-19 deaths reported

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The deaths of four West Virginians from Logan County and Mercer County were the latest to be attributed to COVID-19 in information released through the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

As of Friday morning, DHHR said there had been 157 total deaths statewide since March.

The latest four victims were two women from Logan County, ages 77 and 84, a man from Logan County, age 73, and a man from Mercer County, age 97.

Heading into the weekend, the cumulative COVID-19 infection rate was 2.4 percent for West Virginia while the daily COVID-19 infection rate was 2.3 percent with 8,274 total confirmed cases statewide, reflecting an increase of 123 cases since Thursday morning.

Active case numbers, known cases, were at 1,973.

A total of 135 people were hospitalized because of COVID-19 on Friday, according to DHHR, and 52 of those people were in intensive care.

DHHR CASES PER COUNTY: Barbour (31), Berkeley (727), Boone (114), Braxton (8), Brooke (72), Cabell (436), Calhoun (6), Clay (18), Doddridge (6), Fayette (166), Gilmer (18), Grant (131), Greenbrier (94), Hampshire (86), Hancock (112), Hardy (62), Harrison (240), Jackson (166), Jefferson (303), Kanawha (1,046), Lewis (28), Lincoln (97), Logan (285), Marion (198), Marshall (130), Mason (70), McDowell (65), Mercer (219), Mineral (127), Mingo (198), Monongalia (973), Monroe (20), Morgan (32), Nicholas (40), Ohio (275), Pendleton (42), Pleasants (14), Pocahontas (42), Preston (127), Putnam (207), Raleigh (282), Randolph (213), Ritchie (3), Roane (19), Summers (17), Taylor (61), Tucker (11), Tyler (15), Upshur (38), Wayne (214), Webster (4), Wetzel (44), Wirt (7), Wood (269), Wyoming (46).

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