Justice discusses belated revelation of proclamation ending state COVID emergency effective Jan. 1

Dec. 1—MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice issued a proclamation to end the pandemic state of emergency back on Nov. 12, but never announced it, so the public didn't know until a former reporter tweeted about it Tuesday night and the word spread.

The reasoning for the proclamation and its remaining quiet occupied a chunk of Justice's Wednesday COVID briefing.

His reason for not announcing it: "I saw no reason to make a great big hoopla out of it."

Justice issued his original proclamation declaring the state of emergency on March 16, 2020, "to allow the state to best respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic."

Following that, restaurants, bars, gyms and eventually schools were closed. Stores that remained open had capacity limits and smaller spaces saw lines outside with people waiting their turns.

That's pretty much all passed now. Masks are hardly seen and case numbers are down, though they do blip up as the new variants—BQ.1. and BQ.1.1—take hold in the state.

Justice's new proclamation says, "Certain challenges resulting from the pandemic surely remain, but the time for emergency response has ended and the time for all parties to come together, to pull the rope together, and to overcome these remaining challenges together under non-emergency processes is now upon us."

The state of emergency will end, the proclamation says, on Jan. 1, to allow time for emergency rules to be lifted and statutory regulations to be reinstated.

Justice said Wednesday that the state of emergency doesn't affect a whole lot anymore, but was the right response at the time.

"We absolutely did push the right buttons at the right time. ... We did it and we did it right, " he said. It allowed the state flexibility to move quickly. "For all practical purposes we kept our state running."

So why didn't he announce it ? "I see no reason to make big deals out of stuff." In sports and life, "the only shot that matters is the next shot."

Justice noted that COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh is now calling the pandemic an endemic. "We've learned to live with this pandemic and that's what we're going to have to do. ... It's not going to go away for a long time but we can live with it."

Reporters peppered Justice with questions about his decisions and the timing. He said he waited until earlier this month to issue the proclamation because they had to double-and triple-check no federal funding would be lost. "Absolutely we handled the tool that we had efficiently."

There had been speculation that Justice issued the proclamation because of his rocky relationship with state Senate leadership—which had fended off a House effort to abridge his emergency powers during the regular session—and the possibility the Senate would move to curb his powers.

Justice termed that speculation "ridiculous."

When would he have announced the change ? He said he's been preoccupied with the birth of his new granddaughter. "I would have announced it real soon." It doesn't take effect until the new year. "We have plenty of time."

Since the start of the emergency, Justice has held his briefings via Zoom, with the press attending remotely and fielding questions when called on, typically with no opportunity to follow up. Charleston-based reporters have been itching for a return to in-person briefings and asked if those would resume after Jan. 1.

Justice said he's out and about the state all the time, always fielding reporters' questions. "I'm not sitting in a bunker somewhere all huddled down. ... This has worked pretty dad-gum efficiently."

But the briefings may evolve, he said. He will continue with two per week, but one may focus on updates about goings-on across the state, with cabinet secretaries making appearances. And he may offer a mix of virtual and in-person briefings.

Justice and his team said the Joint Interagency Task Force will continue its work.

JIATF Director Gen. James Hoyer said last Sunday marked 1, 000 days that the task force has been on duty. The death toll has reached 7, 611—more than the population of Pleasants County. "It could have been much much worse if we had not responded the way we have."

Marsh said the COVID hospitalization count has ticked up, from 114 on Nov. 23 to 169 on Wednesday. Part of that is the expected spread resulting from Thanksgiving gatherings and part is tied to the movement of the BQ variants into the state.

He used that as a hook to repeat his call for all to stay current on their vaccines. The BQ variants are by far the most infectious to date and immunity from previously acquiring COVID or from prior vaccines is no guarantee against infection.

But the new omicron-specific vaccine guards against severe illness and death, he said. "So stay up to date."

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