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Hampshire vaccinations top 3,700
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More than 15 percent of Hampshire County’s estimated 23,175 residents have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

The state’s coronavirus website on Tuesday morning showed that 3,779 people here have received at least the 1st dose of the 2-phase vaccine.

That includes a batch delivered Monday in a clinic at Hope Christian Church Augusta’s gym.

Despite the challenges Mother Nature threw at us this morning, the team was able to vaccinate another 262 people at today's clinic,” Hampshire County Health Director Stephanie Shoemaker posted on her agency’s Facebook page Monday evening.

Although another death was added to the county’s toll over the weekend, our 28th, signs continue to be promising that the battle against the deadly disease is being won.

• With the county’s status at orange on the state’s 5-color system, all schools are open for in-person instruction.

• Hampshire added 4 new cases to the ledger Monday, bringing the total active to 25, nearly a 4-month low, with only 3 hospitalizations.

Over the nearly year-long course of the pandemic, 1,539 people here have tested positive for Covid-19 and 28 have died.

During the same timeframe, 18,125 Covid-19 tests have been performed on residents here. That’s nearly 80 percent of the county’s population, but the tally includes repeat tests on people.

The week’s death was a 76-year-old woman from Shanks, reported midweek last week.

The bulk of the county’s vaccinations — 2,261 — have been handled by the county Health Department. Lambert Drug Store at Mountain Top has administered most of the rest through a contract with the state.

Lambert’s has been vaccinating people since mid-December, Pharmacist John Lambert said Monday, and has done the clinics at both the county’s nursing homes, Hampshire County Schools and the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

Some shots are being delivered at the pharmacy and the Walgreens in Romney has also administered vaccines. Both of those services are delivered to people who have registered on the state’s website and hotline.

The CVS pharmacy at Sunrise Summit and Reed’s Pharmacy in Capon Bridge are not administering the vaccine yet.

DMV closing here today
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After 20 years in the same location, the Division of Motor Vehicles office in Romney is apparently closing today.

A new DMV office opens Monday in the plaza south of the Keyser Wal-Mart, says the contractor who has the 5-year lease for the facility.

DMV has not confirmed either the closing nor the opening.

The local DMV office manager, Charles Russell, said his supervisor, Tabitha Holiday, had to release any information. Holiday, in turn, referred an inquiry to DMV spokeswoman Natalie Holcomb in Charleston, who did not respond to a phone call that reached her voicemail.

Office workers said today — Wednesday, Feb. 24 — is the last day the Romney DMV will be open.

Jeff Keiss, who holds the lease on the Keyser-area facility, said he anticipates that office to open Monday, March 1.

“We’re there,” Keiss said Friday. “We’re just putting in the final touches. Carpenters are putting the casework in it. We’re right on schedule.”

A motorcycle test track “will be completed when weather permits,” he said.

The 8,000-square-foot facility is in the Potomac Plaza off Route 220.

DMV unexpectedly announced in December that it would move the office from Romney to Keyser.

The agency had signaled that it wanted a new home in the Romney area in September when it solicited interested for a facility that would meet its needs, including a motorcycle test track, slightly expanded space and more parking than the office that is closing.

But DMV quietly canceled that solicitation and in November published a new one in the Mineral News-Tribune, asking for similar specifications and adding the need for access to I-68.

A month later, DMV announced it had awarded a contract to Keiss for the office at Potomac Plaza.

Full-time (almost), in person
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Hampshire students will be in school 4 days a week

Students in Hampshire County will see a return to in-person learning 4 days a week, effective today, Feb. 24, the board decided at their Monday night meeting.

The schools have been making the most of the split A/B schedule since Jan. 19, but with the board’s decision Monday, students are set to return to brick-and-mortar full-time.

“Sixty percent of the staff has been vaccinated,” board president Debbie Champ said. “Everyone who wanted it has gotten at least 1 dose.”

Students who want to remain virtual are welcome to do so, and this keeps Virtual Fridays on the schedule until the end of the school year.

Though counties like neighboring Morgan decided to go back to in-person learning the full 5 days per week, the school board was stoutly against the idea of eliminating Virtual Fridays for Hampshire County teachers.

“As long as virtual is an option, the teachers need a day,” Champ said.

Board member Bernie Hott echoed the sentiment, adding, “We need to keep those Fridays. We promised the teachers.”

A survey was sent out to teachers and staff to determine how they were feeling about the possible return to brick-and-mortar, and Superintendent Jeff Pancione said 76 percent were in favor of returning, while 24 percent were against.

“We need to figure out for that 24 percent what we can do to make things more comfortable,” pointed out board vice president Ed Morgan.

Community member Tim Nichols was also present for the meeting, offering his support for the return to full-time in-person learning.

“We need to get our children back in school 5 days a week,” Nichols said. “Let’s not lose another day.”

The initial motion on the table from Hott was for in-person learning to begin, 4 days a week, immediately Tuesday morning, but Pancione recommended that the board bump it back to Wednesday to give parents, teachers and transportation staff time to make a plan and be prepared.

‘Friends’ will monitor Cacapon water quality
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CAPON BRIDGE — “We feel lucky that the Cacapon River is one of the cleanest in West Virginia,” the Friends of the Cacapon River states on its web page — and the group plans to keep it that way.

As part of a new “Keep the Cacapon Clean” initiative, Friends of the Cacapon River will soon begin taking scientific measurements of the river’s health monthly, with the results to be disseminated as widely as possible.

Organized in the 1970s, the Friends of the Cacapon River claims to be one of the earliest environmental organizations in the state devoted to preservation of a watershed. The group’s web page points out that over 40 percent of American rivers are too polluted for swimming or fishing — and the Cacapon is threatened too.

Friends’ Advocacy Chair Randee Weaver reports water samples will be taken at 14 sites along the river, beginning with Cullers Run, in Hardy County south of Lost River State Park, and running along the entire length of the river north to the Potomac.

Sampling will include effluent discharged into the river from wastewater treatment plants serving the 3 largest towns on the river — Wardensville in Hardy County; Capon Bridge; and Great Cacapon in Morgan County, where the Cacapon runs into the Potomac.

Volunteers have been recruited to conduct the sampling. They will be trained in March, and regular monthly sampling will begin in April.

The training sessions will be conducted by the Cacapon Institute in Great Cacapon, which has also recommended the sampling kits the volunteers will use. Founded in 1985 as Pine Cabin Run Ecological Lab, the institute includes a state-certified lab in which samples will be analyzed.

Weaver noted that the program will require close coordination between the Friends of the Cacapon River and the Cacapon Institute, since volunteers must follow the proper protocols for storage and handling of the samples, which must be delivered to the lab for analysis in a timely fashion.

The Friends of the Cacapon will then disseminate the results as widely as possible, in contrast to the sampling currently done at local wastewater treatment plants.

Though West Virginia’s wastewater plants must test their effluent regularly, they report results to the state Department of Environmental Protection, leaving local people who swim and fish in the river unaware of pollutants in the water they use.

Many threats to the quality of river water come from human activity, including agricultural runoff that has been causing algae blooms, as well as silt from unpaved roads.

The water samples collected at different spots along the river will help identify places where such pollutants are affecting water quality, as well as checking for fecal contamination from wastewater plants.

Weaver said she is not yet sure which pollutants the Cacapon Institute will be looking for in their analysis.

Trash in the river is another problem to be addressed by the “Keep the Cacapon Clean” initiative, asking for help from the public in locating trash swept into the river and accumulating on its banks.

People wishing to participate in this part of the program should download the Water Reporter app from the Friends of the Cacapon River website at cacaponriver.org. The app can be used on both Android and iPhones.

Developed by The Commons, a nonprofit describing itself as a “technology shop that builds software to support the environmental movement,” the Water Reporter app was used last year by 163 organizations and over 5,000 volunteers across the country.

Volunteers use the app to identify sites at which trash is accumulating, provide photographs of what was found, and submit the information to a national database.

Covid restrictions prevent the Friends of the Cacapon River from organizing group projects to clean up the river right now, so they are asking people who find trash in the river to remove it if they can.

When it is again safe to schedule group activities, they plan monthly river cleanups, and will be working on other educational and social events focused on the river.

Anticipating the end of Covid restrictions later this year, the Keep the Cacapon Clean Initiative is already involved in one such event — the Cacapon Riverfest scheduled for Aug. 21 in Capon Bridge, which should become an annual event.

Gas prices hit a high
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Prices hit $2.69 a gallon this week and experts say it’s a direct result of the winter storm that plunged Texas into a utility disaster last week.

Residents here are noticing.

“Instead of $40 to fill my tank, it's now $50,” Sean Boynton of Cross Junction, Va., posted on the Review’s Facebook page. “I'm afraid it's only going to get worse.”

And Joe McCubbin of Augusta had this prediction:

“As gas prices rise so will prices of consumer goods.”

Gasbuddy.com, the travel and navigation app used by more North American drivers to save money on gas, said prices will move even higher as millions of barrels of refining capacity have gone offline from the extreme cold in Texas.

When temperatures plummeted, power demand surged in the Lone Star state. The electric grid shut down in parts and the state’s power companies started rolling blackouts, idling the Gulf Coast refineries that provide the bulk of gasoline sold across the country.

The upshot is that the national average for a gallon of gas jumped 10.4 cents last week, to $2.63 on Sunday.

West Virginia’s average was also $2.63 on Sunday, up 10.9 cents from a week earlier. Prices ranged from $2.29 to $2.79 in Gasbuddy’s daily survey of 1,154 outlets in the Mountain State.

The average gas price in West Virginia is 28 cents higher than a month ago and 22.9 cents higher than a year ago.

Gasbuddy says the situation will only get worse before it gets better. Texas has to deal with the utility disaster that followed the natural disaster. On Tuesday morning, 8 million Texans were without water service.

Mary Lou Weaver Davis said on the Review’s Facebook page Monday night that the pain hasn’t come yet, but it will.

“I'm a self-employed delivery driver. Higher gas prices cut into my profit. I'm under contract, so I'm paid at a fixed rate,” she posted.

Added Bobby Keith of Rio: “Many of us are still driving to work daily. It's sure not helping us.”

But the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that others are driving less.

“We try not to go out that much,” said Pamela Foster of Augusta.

Hip hip hooray!
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The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission issued the following statement on Friday Feb. 19 regarding attendance.

“Each county/school will determine the maximum number of spectators allowed in their indoor facilities based on the requirements that social distancing be maintained and spectators wear face coverings. It is recommended that parents and family members of the student athletes and coaches (both home and visiting teams) be given first priority.”

As for Hampshire High athletics, the maximum number of fans allowed in the gym for girls basketball, boys basketball and wrestling will be 215 people.

“We came to an agreement with the local health department officials to operate at 25% capacity,” explained Hampshire High athletic director Trey Stewart.

Previously, for most fall and winter sports, attendance was limited to just parents, grandparents and household members.

Now with the expanded numbers, the extra seating opportunities will allow students to attend games.

“We are going to try to hold back a certain amount for HHS students then allow the rest for the general public.” said Stewart.  

One of the hurdles for Trojan athletics is how to divide the tickets between students and the general public.

“We are one of the smallest gym capacities in the state of West Virginia and right now the fine details are still being worked out.”

Although Stewart was hesitant to provide an exact number of students allowed in attendance, he did confirm that game entry would be based on using a cashless ticket purchase system. 

The attendance policies at Romney and Capon Bridge athletic events will closely mimic the high school, following the 25% capacity guidelines outlined by the local health department.

“We met on Friday about the attendance situation,” said Capon Bridge Middle School athletic director Bryan Potter.

“The health department said that we could have up to 25% of our gym capacity. That would allow us to have up to 125 people. They will also have to social distance and wear masks.”

Although general attendance rules are in place, nothing is yet set in stone according to Potter.

“We are going to have to do the list again to make sure that both teams parents and grandparents are able to attend, then open the rest up to general admission,” said Potter.

“We want to make sure that all household members, parents, and grandparents can attend if at all possible.

Romney Middle School athletic director Chad VanMeter also confirmed the 25% capacity guidelines for girls and boys home basketball games. The Pioneer girls open the season on March 8 against Moorefield.