CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia unveiled a draft plan on Wednesday for rolling out a coronavirus vaccine, starting with medical workers and gradually bringing it to other essential workers and to the general public at sites such as drive-thru venues.
As cases continued to pile up in the state, Gov. Jim Justice ruled out any new shutdowns on businesses and other public life for now. He said additional restrictions would only come if the state starts seeing many more deaths due to COVID-19. He most recently tightened an indoor mask requirement at all public settings.
He said he would prefer students stay in classrooms in counties with smaller outbreaks, bucking a request from the state’s largest teachers group to go virtual-only through year’s end.
The state reported 717 new confirmed cases on Wednesday and 14 new deaths, bringing its total to at least 36,722 cases and 612 fatalities since the pandemic began. Weekly tallies of new cases are sharply up.
“We’re not going to shut anything down, unless this thing continues to get worse and worse,” the Republican governor said at a news conference. He said rumors by some of his conservative critics that he wants to shut down businesses are “hogwash.”
Justice has urged residents to wear masks and get tested regularly in order to stem outbreaks until a vaccine arrives.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources submitted its early plan to administer coronavirus shots to the Centers for Disease Control this week. The first batch of limited vaccines would go to staff at long-term care centers, emergency medical personnel and hospital workers.
Those at the highest risk for severe complications from the virus, including people 65 and older, would receive access as supply increases later in the state’s phase 1 rollout.
West Virginia would dole out doses to counties most in need based on the size of their vulnerable populations. The state has one of the largest populations of elderly residents and people with underlying conditions.
Pfizer said Wednesday that its vaccine is 95% effective, safe and protects older people most at risk of dying. The company and its German partner BioNTech plan to seek emergency U.S. approval for the shot within days. Moderna Inc. similarly said earlier this week its vaccine is 94.5% effective.
Meanwhile, West Virginia University announced it is taking all undergraduate instruction online for the rest of the fall semester due to rising cases.
Six counties have voluntarily decided to move to virtual-only instruction for public schools despite meeting the state’s metrics for in-person instruction. Seventeen additional counties don’t meet requirements due to severe virus spread.