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DMV moving to Keyser
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The Division of Motor Vehicles will move its regional office from Romney to a site to be constructed near the Keyser Walmart by spring.

The announcement last week caught local political leaders and employees at the office on Sunrise Summit by surprise.

“I’m shocked,” Delegate Ruth Rowan said Monday. “I had no idea that this was going on or even being considered.”

DMV said Friday it has signed a letter of intent for a facility to be built in the plaza beside the Keyser Walmart.

DMV had advertised in the Hampshire Review on Sept. 2 that it was soliciting interest from bidders for a facility in the Romney area as its lease expired on the current site on Sunrise Summit.

The ad listed minimum square footage, necessary parking spaces and dimensions for a motorcycle testing track.

The notice drew a single response, from BTA Inc. of Cumberland, which owns the former Weimer Chevrolet property next door to the current DMV.

But, spokeswoman Samantha Knapp of the state DMV office said in an email Friday, her agency dropped its interest here and published a similar solicitation of interest notice in Keyser’s Mineral News Tribune on Nov. 5 and 6.

The new solicitation sought a site in “Keyser or Burlington, or elsewhere in Mineral County that has close access to I-68.”

Follow-up questions to DMV could not get an answer for why proximity to I-68 was crucial, other than this from spokeswoman Natalie Holcomb:

“I-68 runs to Morgantown and is a route frequented by eastern panhandle residents traveling to other parts of West Virginia.”

Knapp also said the new location “will be closer to a larger concentration of population, making it more easily accessible to all residents in the region.”

Knapp referred questions to Holcomb, who said no analysis exists of population concentration.

“You can check census data and other demographic info to check relative population,” she emailed. But she did not respond to a follow-up question asking her to identify the region the office serves so population data could be analyzed.

DMV did not respond to a request for the cost of the new lease. It was paying $110 a square foot under the current lease.

State Sen. Craig Blair, who represents Hampshire County, put responsibility for the decision on the governor’s office.

“Closing the Romney DMV was probably a tough decision,” he said Tuesday morning, “but again, it’s fully up to the governor and his department heads to make the best decisions on where to locate DMV offices to serve as many West Virginians as possible.”

The 15th District’s other senator, Charles Trump, did not return a call asking for a statement. The relocation moves DMV out of the 15th District.

DMV has been housed in the building on Sunrise Summit for 20 years. Bob Mayhew, who owned the Chevrolet dealership across Ridge Loop Road at the time, built the facility. He sold the DMV site to Shaun Dodds of Elkins a couple of years ago.

The state also leases space for the Department of Environmental Protect in the building. 

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School bond call can move ahead

The state money will flow here over the next 3 years.

 “This is great news,” Superintendent Jeff Pancione said. “This is wonderful news.”

Monday’s action by the state allows Hampshire to begin the process of selling $26 million in bonds for the work.

Pancione said the documents could be ready for the board’s approval at its Jan. 4 meeting, but that’s just the 1st step.

After board approval, the paperwork goes to the attorney general’s office for review, a process that Finance Director Denise Hott said they have been warned could take a month or longer.

Once the bonds are sold then work can begin, starting with hiring an architect.

The tax increase necessary to pay the bonds will be reflected in the tax bills issued in July.

The $50 million project — $24 million from the SBA and $26 million from Hampshire taxpayers — also includes upgrades at Hampshire High School and a gym for Capon Bridge Elementary.

Voters here overwhelmingly approved the bond call in early June, but the county schools could not move forward until the SBA signed off, which happened at Monday’s meeting.

Hampshire lobbied for the agency to act this month after the SBA said it intended to delay all its funding decisions until April since the pandemic had slowed down the process counties go through to prepare construction requests.

“It would have probably delayed us a year,” Pancione said. “We are really, really appreciative.”

Hampshire officials said waiting until April would stall progress on a project voters here had already approved and the SBA had agreed to in principle.

The SBA ultimately agreed.

“Based upon our county’s response, their vote, their approval, the SBA recognized that the citizens of Hampshire County — in the midst of a pandemic — stepped up,” Pancione said.

Hampshire plans to build new elementary schools in Romney, Augusta and Slanesville, to be called the West, Central and North schools.

The order in which the new schools will be built has not been finalized.

The old elementary schools in Romney, Springfield, Augusta, Slanesville and Levels will be closed, either torn down or disposed of. Parts of the Romney school date back to 1930; all the others were built between 1952 and 1965.

Plans have the new West Elementary being built on the site of the old Hampshire Memorial Hospital on Romney’s northwest side. The schools would swap land with the Development Authority.

North School will be built on unused space in the board’s property that surrounds Slanesville Elementary. The Central School will be built on a lot next to Augusta Elementary.

The only current elementary school that will remain in operation is Capon Bridge, built in 1991.

SBA Executive Director David Roach said his agency will still have around $51 million in April to hand out for school construction and renovation. 

‘It’s heartbreaking to me’
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Virus puts 4 family members in 3 hospitals

Here’s a number: 4. That’s how many close family members Andrea Kerns of Romney has in the hospital due to the Covid virus.

Here’s another number: 3. That’s how many different hospitals are serving the Kerns’ family. Four close family members, 3 hospitals.

The Covid numbers are rising, and the Kerns family is a testament to the fact that this virus can, in fact, hit home.

Kerns’ father, Richard Shanholtzer, was being treated in Winchester, and on Monday was moved to a nursing facility to undergo physical therapy. Her mother and father-in-law, Betty and Paul Kerns are currently undergoing treatment in Keyser and her brother-in-law, Randy Kerns, is currently in Cumberland.

“It’s very hard, because you can’t go to the hospital to see anyone,” Kerns said. “We communicate with their nurses or doctors through the phone. My husband is allowed to call and get nightly updates (on his parents), but I’m sure it’s crazy at the hospitals.”

Crazy is an understatement. With numbers rising all around the state and counties flashing red across the map, the virus continues to play a significant role in day-to-day life.

Plus, Kerns said, with the virus affecting every individual differently, it makes it even scarier. For her, the virus isn’t an “invisible threat.” It isn’t abstract; it isn’t something that will pass her by.

The virus has hit home for the Kerns family, and she said with the holidays coming up, it’s a challenge for her family emotionally.

 “I think it would be hard any time of year,” she said, “But now it’s Christmastime.”

At a time that is characterized in a normal year by time spent with family, it’s going to be a little different in 2020.

“It’s heartbreaking to me. I understand why you can’t go into these places, but there are people, older people especially, who might not understand,” Kerns pointed out. “It’s kind of exhausting. The phone rang non-stop, my husband and I were on the cell phones and the landline, and there was 1 day last week we were on the phone all day, morning to night.”

Kerns, a kindergarten teacher at Romney Elementary, is currently quarantining in her home and is using social media to keep the community updated on how things are going with her family.

“We are very blessed that we live in a community like this,” she said. “With people asking if they can do anything, and all I can say is pray.”

As of Monday afternoon, Shanholtzer was being transferred to a nursing facility, Betty could possibly get home today, and Paul and Randy remain in the hospital. 

It’s hard to see the brighter side of things, but with Christmastime being a time of hope, Kerns said she’s trying to look ahead to better times in the future.

“Pray for any family affected by this, and hopefully, it will eventually get better,” she said. “People need to be aware that this is real and you just don’t know how it’ll affect your family.”

Virus spreads at nursing home
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County records 2 more deaths

Hampshire Center on Monday afternoon reported 13 patients and 5 staff members with active cases.

Two Hampshire residents died from the disease last week, bringing the county’s total to 6. But that’s a lot less than the 47 deaths that Mineral County has experienced, including 5 Monday and 9 last Friday alone.

Across Hampshire County, the Health Department reported 30 new cases Monday afternoon, making 168 active cases with 14 hospitalized.

With staff at 3 of the county’s 6 elementary schools infected, Superintendent Jeff Pancione announced last week that all instruction will be virtual until Christmas break, with the bulk of staff working remotely as well.

Hampshire Center said it is taking precautions to curb its outbreak.

“During this pandemic, we have been stringent with restrictions and a whole host of other precautions,” Dr. Richard Feifer, the center’s chief medical officer said in a statement. “We also continue to follow the direction of the West Virginia Department of Health in an effort to contain and minimize the spread of the virus.”

Feifer said the center screens and takes temperatures of all staff entering the building and requires staff to wear personal protective equipment.

Visiting there has been restricted in favor of Zoom meetings for families, he said, and only necessary outside medical appointments are being scheduled.

Hampshire Center’s was not the only outbreak in the county.

Potomac Center’s Hampshire Place, a residential setting for adults, had 2 employees and 3 residents test positive.

A birthday party that drew 25 people to a church in the county resulted in 9 partygoers testing positive, the Health Department said last Thursday. The press release did not say when or where the party was held.

The county’s 5th Covid death was reported Thursday, a 90-year-old woman at the extended-care unit of Hampshire Memorial Hospital.

On Friday, a 6th death was reported. A 74-year-old woman from Levels died at UPMC-Western Maryland Hospital in Cumberland.

When more cases were reported among staff at the Romney and Capon Bridge elementary schools Thursday morning, Augusta Elementary was also added to the list.

That led Pancione to announce that the schools would initiate a plan for teleworking for staff beginning that day through Dec. 23 to help mitigate the spread of the virus among the staff in the buildings.

An employee at Greg’s Restaurant in Capon Bridge has tested positive for Covid-19.

The County Health Department said Friday that the employee was last in the restaurant on Dec. 8. Anyone in the restaurant on that date may have had contact with the employee and should seek testing if they begin to exhibit symptoms of the disease.

Staff at the restaurant who had contact with the employee have been told to quarantine. Contact tracing has begun. 

HMH to vaccinate staff Thursday
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Hampshire Memorial Hospital will deliver its 1st Covid-19 vaccinations Thursday.

The shots will be delivered to staff, Valley Health spokeswoman Carol Weare said. Doses will be shipped to the hospital for same-day use because HMH doesn’t have a freezer capable of storing the vaccine at a temperature of –90 degrees.  

The vaccinations come less than a week after the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine. The manufacturer began delivering doses across the country Monday and Valley Health received its 1st shipment Tuesday.

“It’s like Christmas Eve a week early,” said Dr. Jeffrey Feit, Valley Health vice president of population health.

The vaccine is given in 2 doses 3 weeks apart.

With facilities and providers in Virginia and West Virginia, Valley Health said it is following guidance from health authorities in both states, which gives priority to vaccinating front-line caregivers most at-risk of contracting COVID-19. The health system expected to receive nearly 3,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the initial shipment.

“Our teams have been planning and preparing for this moment for months,” said Dr. Iyad Sabbagh, Valley Health’s chief medical officer.

Institutions around the region were all gearing up for the vaccine this week.

•  Hampshire Center nursing home on Sunrise Summit doesn’t know when it will get its first doses, said Dr. Richard Feifer,  its chief medical officer.

“We are awaiting details about West Virginia's plan for distribution and will be working quickly and methodically to prepare for this effort and administer the vaccine in our centers,” he said.

• Stephanie Shoemaker, director of the Hampshire County Health Department, said she expects that by the time her office is giving vaccinations it won’t be this 1st one.

“Pfizer isn’t realistic for our area,” she said, noting the lack of deep-freeze storage.

A 2nd vaccine, by Moderna, is in the pipeline for FDA approval. It requires refrigeration, but not at the low temperatures of the Pfizer vaccine. Like Pfizer’s, Moderna’s vaccine is given in 2 stages.

• Potomac State College in Keyser, as part of the WVU system, said it will receive vaccine doses starting Dec. 27 for qualifying students, faculty and staff. It is prioritizing voluntary vaccinations for employees with on-campus work assignments aged 65 and older with underlying medical conditions.

• UPMC Western Maryland in Cumberland was awaiting the vaccine Wednesday. The hospital was bypassed for the 1st round of the vaccine delivered to Maryland even though Allegany County leads the state in infection rate.

Employees at UPMC sites in Pennsylvania began receiving the vaccine Monday.

In accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, the first-available vaccine doses will be distributed to healthcare workers, long-term care facility staff and residents, individuals critical to community infrastructure and emergency response, public health officials, and first responders.