Vice President Mike Pence, in public remarks during a visit to The Greenbrier Resort, praised West Virginia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“President Trump wanted me to be here with a very special message for you: We are with you. We are going to stay with you until the day we can put this coronavirus in the past once and for all,” Pence said.
Pence met with Gov. Jim Justice, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Congresswoman Carol Miller and Congressman Alex Mooney, all Republicans, at midday about the covid-19 pandemic. Other state leaders such as coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh and Adjutant General James Hoyer were there, too.
Two reporters, Brad McElhinny of West Virginia MetroNews and Amanda Barren of WSAZ-TV, had access for about a half hour of public remarks. Both were serving in a pool capacity for other media. Pence did not take questions.
Following the coronavirus briefing, Pence remained at The Greenbrier for fundraiser events for the Trump-Pence campaign. Justice, whose family owns The Greenbrier, was serving as the host of those events. Pence was returning to Washington, D.C., in the evening.
Justice, in his public remarks, returned praise to Pence.
“We’ve done the right things here. We have stayed together. I could never be more proud of what the people of West Virginia have done. But we could never have done this without the Trump team and all the work everybody has done,” Justice said.
Justice said he was not just piling on flattery.
“I don’t blow smoke at anybody. I don’t have time to do it,” Justice said.
West Virginia, up to now, has been hit only somewhat hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with 8,457 total cases and 160 deaths reported by the state through Saturday morning.
However, there are increasing worries about the spread of the virus, particularly in rural areas of the state such as Logan County, which the state listed Saturday with 303 active cases and 11 deaths.
“I want to express my deepest sympathies to all the families who have lost loved ones,” Pence said.
West Virginia’s leaders were able to tout some aspects of the state’s response.
On Friday, Justice rolled out a color-coded map to show residents of West Virginia counties whether in-class education would be considered safe. It is based on a rolling 7-day average of newly-identified cases, adjusted per 100,000.
Hoyer, the National Guard adjutant general, was able to describe homegrown innovations with personal protective gear and advances West Virginia has made with covid testing supplies.
“I think it’s a testament not only to your leadership but to the people of West Virginia. I’m happy to be here to see the details,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who accompanied Pence.
Capito, in her own short remarks, offered praise for state leaders and for the Trump administration.
At the state level, she said, “Once we saw our numbers become manageable, success breeds success.” But she acknowledged, “There’s still a lot of work to do.”
Following the public remarks, the vice president, the governor and most of the others went into a different ballroom for a reception.
Greenbrier guests are to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
“The event with Vice President Pence will adhere to all COVID-19 mask requirements, social distancing, and personal protection policies recommended by local, state, and federal governments,” said communications director Clay Sutton for Justice’s re-election campaign in response to MetroNews questions this week.
The governor last month lowered West Virginia’s social gathering limit from 100 people down to 25.
“The 25-person limitation applies only to purely social gatherings,” according to state guidelines.
The limit does not apply to “group meetings, conferences or other special events held for essential businesses and operations, as defined by the emergency order signed by Justice. “Such meetings, conferences, or other special events will need to plan for social distancing between attendees based on CDC recommendations.”
Justice, questioned by West Virginia media last week, did not describe which one of those kinds of gatherings might describe a political fundraiser.
On Wednesday, governor said he did not know much about the visit at all.
“This is not a fundraiser for me, and it’s an absolute fundraiser for our president and our vice president,” Justice said today.
“I’ll be there, and I’ll greet our vice president as I always would try to do. But from the standpoint of how The Greenbrier’s handling it or the size of the crowd, and everything, there will be no crowd and I’m sure The Greenbrier will handle it very well.”
Pence said Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, will make her own visit to West Virginia on August 19, which is this coming Wednesday.