As pandemic eases, Justice wants joint task force to continue and take on more threats

As West Virginia’s covid numbers continue to improve and the state comes closer to dropping its mask mandate, Gov. Jim Justice says he wants to maintain the contributions of a joint agency task force that has guided the state’s response.

Gov. Jim Justice

“Without any question, we need to continue on with our interagency task force,” Justice said today at the end of a regular briefing about the pandemic.

The Joint Interagency Task Force was established late last year to coordinate the covid-19 vaccine rollout. It is led by retired Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer and includes representatives of interconnected state agencies and additional organizations.

Through today, 759,286 West Virginians are fully vaccinated, and 936,453 — about half the population — have received at least one dose. Only citizens age 12 and older are eligible.

The state has recorded 3,229 active cases while 156,768 are considered recovered.

Justice has lifted mask requirements for residents who are vaccinated and plans to lift the face coverings requirement for everyone on June 20, now just days away.

But he said the work of the joint task force remains necessary, even for additional duties.

“We need to continue funding that and let that lead us into that task force and that level of expertise — lead us on to taking on other dreaded illnesses that are affecting the state of West Virginia and continue to be prepared for any whiplash in regard to this pandemic or others,” Justice said.

“It is amazing, amazing, amazing what service that has been to West Virginia. They’ve done so good and now will take on the general health of West Virginia.”

The task force includes representatives of the Department of Health and Human Resources, the West Virginia National Guard, the Division of Emergency Management, the Higher Education Policy Commission, the West Virginia Hospital Association, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, the West Virginia Health Care Association and the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University.

Dr. Clay Marsh

Clay Marsh, the state’s pandemic response coordinator, said he agrees it would be helpful to keep the band together.

“We’ve been able to respond to this crisis in a way that has really demonstrated the smarts and innovations and capabilities of people in our state,” Marsh said, addressing the public and the governor.

“As you said, this is to me a golden moment in time where we can take this team we have constructed under your leadership and guidance and start to take on some of the other really challenging health problems in our state.”

James Hoyer

Hoyer, who retired from the National Guard and became a senior associate vice president at West Virginia University, agreed.

“The governor has used the task force construct to get us through state disasters as well as Boy Scout Jamborees and World Jamborees and now a pandemic,” Hoyer said.

He said that now could be used “to improve overall health and wellness of the people of West Virginia and create a new legacy for our state.”

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