CHARLESTON — West Virginia broadband service provider Citynet will receive $53.5 million during the next decade to expand broadband access across the state, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin announced.
The funds are from the first round of the Federal Communications Commission Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, said Manchin, D-WVa. BroadbandNow says the FCC has overestimated broadband coverage in West Virginia more than any other state, Manchin said in a news release.
“I am pleased West Virginia provider Citynet will receive $53.5 million to expand access in West Virginia, but there is still work to be done,” Manchin said. “The broadband coverage maps used to distribute RDOF funds are still incorrect, and over 2,400 West Virginians have proven it through speed tests submitted to the FCC.”
Hospitals to get funds for pandemic staffing issues
CHARLESTON — West Virginia is sending out funding to help reimburse stressed hospitals for staffing issues during the coronavirus pandemic, a state health official said last week.
About 40 hospitals will receive $17 million in the next few days, Bill Crouch, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said at a news conference.
Many hospitals have received federal relief funding covering other parts of revenues lost during the pandemic. “That’s why we chose the staffing costs,” including overtime and staff retention efforts, Crouch said.
The first phase of the funding will help cover staffing costs from the pandemic’s surge in August. A second phase will cover staffing costs from September, Crouch said.
He said the total cost of the initiative could reach $35 million.
“We’re using a variety of funds, trying to maximize federal dollars, so that we can save our state dollars as much as possible as they’re needed,” Crouch said.
According to state health data, 870 people are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, down from the record of 1,012 on Sept. 24. Records also were set last month for the number of virus patients in hospital intensive care units and those on ventilators.
Some rural hospitals reached their critical bed capacities last month and health officials have pleaded with the public to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits to allow hospitals to focus their resources on treating COVID-19 patients.
West Virginia Hospital Association President and CEO Jim Kaufman said the funding for staffing “will put West Virginia hospitals in the best possible position to directly support their health care workers while also ensuring all West Virginians receive the care they need.”
CHARLESTON — A malfunction caused Gov. Jim Justice to become trapped in the elevator at the governor’s residence last week, his office said.
The Republican governor was stuck for about 30 minutes after the malfunction as mansion staff, state police and other state government personnel worked to open the elevator, Justice’s office said in a news release.
A crowbar and other tools were used to pry open the elevator doors, the statement said.
“I appreciate those who helped out this afternoon and the expressions of concern I’ve received,” Justice said.
In a separate incident recently, First Lady Cathy Justice also was trapped briefly in the elevator.
“I’m just fine, thankfully, and so is Cathy after having a similar problem a few weeks ago,” the governor said. “I’ve asked maintenance and safety personnel to thoroughly inspect the elevator to determine how to prevent this from happening again, and to conduct a full review of the safety and soundness of the entire structure.”
Two locations are first to protect rare species
DAVIS — Two West Virginia locations have been added to a new program to protect rare plant and animal species.
Bald Knob and the Canaan Valley wetlands are the first sites in the West Virginia Natural Areas Program, the state Division of Natural Resources said in a news release.
The program places extra protection on areas with significant conservation needs under the agency’s administration.
Both areas are within the Canaan Valley Resort State Park. The areas include more than 2,200 acres of rare conifer swamps and red spruce forest with more than 40 rare plants, 12 rare invertebrates and several animals unique to the area, the agency said.
“These two areas have the state’s highest concentration of federally listed species and species of greatest conservation need and this designation is going to give us the awareness and resources we need to make sure they are properly managed,” said Scott Warner, the division’s assistant chief of wildlife diversity.
NAACP president is 1st Black male in state Senate
CHARLESTON — NAACP West Virginia chapter president Owens Brown will be the first Black man to serve in the state Senate, Gov Jim Justice said last week.
Justice announced Brown’s appointment to the Senate seat vacated by the resignation of Bill Ihlenfeld, who was confirmed Tuesday as the U.S. attorney for the state’s northern district.
“I congratulate Owens beyond belief. He will do an incredible job,” Justice said in a statement. “I am so proud of this because we need diversity. We need other opinions.”
Brown is a Wheeling resident. The Senate seat covers Brooke, Hancock and Ohio counties as well as part of Marshall County.
Marie Redd of Huntington was the first Black person elected to the state Senate, in 1998.