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The state will give a $100 savings bond to each West Virginian from age 16-35 who takes a COVID-19 vaccine. West Virginia will use federal COVID-19 stimulus funding to finance the program.
Gov. Jim Justice announced the savings bond plan Monday in a bid to get more COVID-19 vaccine shots in arms in West Virginia. He said the plan had been “vetted [in] every way in the world.” He added that he had made the decision “if we want to really move this needle, and we want to move it right now.”
“I’m telling you, West Virginia, it’s time to shut this thing down” unless state residents want COVID-19 to “linger forever.”
The governor later in his news conference said he’s hopeful the state will be able to give all those 16-35 savings bonds, and added that he believes a savings bond would be something meaningful to look at it in the future, rather than “just … a dash in the pan and a couple of trips to Wendy’s with your friends.”
Justice estimates the initiative could cost $27.5 million if it’s wildly successful. If there aren’t enough savings bonds available, the state will hand out cash, Justice said.
“But if we did that … it would be the best money ever spent, like you can’t imagine,” Justice said.
Justice also went over the many ideas submitted and kicked around to boost the numbers of those being vaccinated.
The governor indicated state officials have received “lots and lots of good ideas here, but I am telling you, we need to kickstart this, and kickstart this in a big way.”
He added, “maybe just a real dose of patriotism from the standpoint of a savings bond” would be meaningful to the young. “Our young people should be really, really proud if they help us step up,” Justice said.
He said without vaccine buy-in from many more people, he would be “reading names” of the pandemic dead every other day, “and also we’re going to be faced with wearing these masks that nobody likes for a long, long, long time.”
But if young people “step up in masses, we’ll be done, and we’ll be done soon” with COVID-19.
Dr. Clay Marsh, who leads the state’s medical response to COVID-19, said the state is “at a critical point in this pandemic response,” with people choosing to be vaccinated, plus wearing masks and staying physically distanced, pivotal at this inflection point in Mountain State history. Marsh added that the vaccines are “incredibly effective” and “incredibly safe.” All of his close loved ones have been vaccinated, Marsh added.
James Hoyer, who leads the West Virginia vaccine effort, said the state is “doing exceptionally well” with residents getting their second vaccine. He said it’s key to get the second vaccine to have full immunity.
Justice added that vaccines would be offered at the state basketball tournament in Charleston, via the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, and likely would be added through mobile units at fairs, festivals and other events.
A total of 700,260 residents, about 52%, now have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, while 558,785 are fully vaccinated. The state has about 1.792 million people in all, but only those who are 16 and older — about 1.47 million — are eligible to be vaccinated.
Justice fears that about 40%, or 588,000, of the 1.47 million are hesitant or just don’t want to be vaccinated. He indicated the approximately 380,000 residents from age 16-35 are especially hesitant. Justice is hopeful the savings bond initiative with the young will result in an 80% participation rate, adding 275,000 to the state’s total, and putting the overall vaccination rate in West Virginia at around 71%.
The state’s variant numbers, according to Marsh: 471 of the United Kingdom variant, and it’s spreading in the 10-35 age group’ 215 cases of the Brazilian variant; and two cases of the South African variant. Marsh noted that as variants continue to mutate, they will come in “more and more and more deadly” forms.
Justice began by noting the loss of eight more individuals to COVID-19 since Friday’s briefing.
“Considering where we’ve been, it’s a good number, and we want to continue to be at this level, or less and less, and finally we’ll get to zero,” the governor said.
The state now has 2,821 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in West Virginia in March 2020. However, that number will fall by 162 Tuesday, according to Dr. Ayne Amjad, state health officer. A review of deaths listed as COVID-19-related ended up not being attributable to the virus, Amjad said. She added that the state is continuing to work toward rolling out an electronic death reporting system.