Governor Jim Justice

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice continues to step up a plan to vaccinate residents 80 and older as well as all school personnel.

The initiative is called Operation SOW (Save Our Wisdom), he said, and once the 80 and above residents of a county have been vaccinated, the goal will turn to those 70 to 79 and on down to 50.

“By God, we are going to stop this thing,” he said of the pandemic.

“I’ve been screaming to the mountaintops that the very thing that we all ought to be the most concerned with is age, age, age,” he said. “So we pivoted. And now, we’re giving real hope to our seniors. That’s what we mean when we say ‘Save Our Wisdom.’ We can’t let our wisdom just die away. We’ve got to have the wisdom for the young people of our state. To all the people that have this wisdom, we are trying in every way in the world to save you today, because you are so precious to us in every way. We also want to be able to vaccinate our teachers and school service personnel so we can get our kids back in school.”

A clinic to vaccinate those 80 and above is set for today at the Brushfork Armory with more being set up around the state.

Justice made the Operation SOW announcement Wednesday during this pandemic briefing.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, director of the Joint InterAgency Task Force coordinating the effort, said details will at the vaccination sites will vary based on the location and the organization running the events.

“We believe the appointment is the most effective and efficient way to do it,” he said. However, the event today in Bluefield is first-come, first-served.

Hoyer said as many as 650 doses may be shipped to some locations if they are available.

Another target this week is vaccinating school personnel age 50 and older, which will begin today.

Justice said as soon as those are vaccinated the rest of school personnel will follow and he has set a goal of having all staff vaccinated by Jan. 19, when students in elementary and middle schools are set to return to classrooms five days a week. Those students will return to class regardless of the county’s color on the County Alert System map.

High school students will return to classes as well if the county is not in the red zone.

As of Wednesday, however, 47 of the state’s 55 counties were in the red zone.

Justice said getting kids back in schools is a priority, but emphasized parents can choose virtual learning and local school boards have leeway in options.

But the Jan. 19 date is still on, he added.

“We are going full speed ahead,” he said, adding that feedback from school division superintendents from around the state has been supportive of the move.

Justice did add that the state continues to have the option to pivot if anything changes in the scenario to move forward with the plan. “This is a fluid situation.”

Bill Crouch, Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) Secretary, supports getting students back in classrooms as soon as possible because reports of child abuse/neglect drop when school is not in session.

“This is a huge concern to DHHR…” he said, pointing out that during 2019 between 3,800 to 4,000 calls of child abuse/ neglect were coming in each month, with up to 68 percent of those calls substantiated.

In 2020 that total number of calls has dropped 50 to 54 percent, he said.

“We have had a huge concern we did not have a second set of eyes on our children,” he said. “Teachers provide the largest segment of those reports. Without teachers having eyes on those students we don’t get the number of calls. We need them to help protect children.”

McDowell County schools have announced vaccinations will be held today for employees 50 and older. All live instruction is canceled for all on-campus learners as well as virtual learners.

Teachers will post independent activities for students and be available for support.

As of Wednesday morning, 60,933 first doses have been administered and 563 second doses have been administered, Justice said. A total of 109,440 vaccines have been delivered to West Virginia to date, making the state’s vaccine administration rate 55.67 percent.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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