1CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s court system can begin a gradual return to regular operations on May 18.
The state Supreme Court announced the guidance last week.
In-person hearings or proceedings can resume subject to safety and health precautions. Employees can return to work May 18 and should wear masks in common areas and when interacting with the public. They also must disinfect common work areas, the court said.
Local courts can delay operations, impose additional restrictions or continue to hear matters through video or remote technology. Court officials should continue to enforce physical distancing in court facilities. Jury trials can be moved to alternate, larger locations with some stipulations.
Grand jury proceedings can begin June 15 and jury trials can start June 29, the Supreme Court said.
No in-person hearings are allow in counties designated as coronavirus hot spots. Judicial officers must still conduct hearings by video or teleconference if appropriate.
over exposure to
2MARTINSBURG — Seven companies have been named in a lawsuit related to the contamination of a West Virginia city’s water supply from firefighting foam.
The lawsuit filed by Charles Town attorney Stephen Skinner seeks damages for exposing Martinsburg residents to chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs. Among the defendants in the lawsuit filed last month in federal court were 3M Co., DuPont Co. and Chemours.
Last year, the Air Force agreed to reimburse $4.9 million to Martinsburg for expenses related to the 2016 cleanup of hazardous chemicals from the city’s water supply. A statement at the time from U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said the source of the contamination was firefighting foam used by the Air National Guard at the Eastern Regional Airport to put out oil-based fires.
The Environmental Protection Agency identified high levels of contamination linked to PFAs and mandated that additional water filtration systems be installed at a treatment plant, Capito’s release said.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages and medical monitoring, alleges negligence, battery, failure to warn, and design defect. Skinner said the companies knew the materials were dangerous and that the contamination was preventable.
“Chemical companies have known for decades that PFA compounds don’t break down and that they accumulate in the human body,’’ Skinner said in a news release. “Those exposures can lead to illness.’’
In a statement, 3M said it “acted responsibly’’ in the manufacture and sales of firefighting foam and “will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.’’
Messages left with DuPont and Chemours were not immediately returned Thursday.
An order filed Monday will transfer the lawsuit to federal court in South Carolina, where dozens of other similar lawsuits were sent, news outlets reported.
WVU furloughing about 875 staffers
3 MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University is furloughing around 875 staffers due to a possible $40 million loss from the coronavirus pandemic, the college said Friday.
The school issued a statement saying the furloughs will start on May 24 and have staffers return to work either June 28 or July 26.
WVU Vice President Rob Alsop late last month said the school was considering furloughs. In a video posted online, he said college faculty, staffers scheduled to teach a class during the furlough period, student employees and federal work study or graduate student assistants are not being considered for the furlough.
The college suspended in-person classes in March. Furloughed employees were notified Friday morning and will continue to receive their benefits, WVU said.
In addition, West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons announced Friday that in order to save the athletic department $3 million, he will take a 10 percent salary reduction for the next fiscal year along with football coach Neal Brown, men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins, women’s basketball coach Mike Carey and baseball coach Randy Mazey.
Coaches and athletic staff earning more than $100,000 will take a 5 percent salary reduction, and staff making less than $100,000 will take a 2.5 percent reduction, Lyons said.
Lyons also said 65 employees, or nearly one-third of the athletic department’s workforce, will be furloughed for 60 days starting on May 24. Some employees will not return to the department and current job openings will not be filled, he said.
Hatfield-McCoy Trails to reopen as
virus rules lift
4CHARLESTON — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Friday that the famous Hatfield-McCoy Trails can reopen later this month as he continues to lift the state’s coronavirus restrictions.
The Republican governor said the all-terrain vehicle trails can open on May 21 after they were closed in late March. He is asking riders to follow social distancing guidelines and wear face coverings when stopped.
“I hope we’ll be celebrating the fact that we’re moving back in southern West Virginia to opening our trails but we’ve got to be really careful,’’ Justice said.
The third week of Justice’s reopening plan begins Monday with drive-in theaters and physical therapy centers allowed to resume operations. His original strategy called for offices, gyms, restaurants and other businesses to start opening next week but the administration said it slowed its plan and will first observe the state’s virus caseload.
The governor has already let hospitals resume elective procedures and allowed the reopening of small businesses, outdoor dining restaurants and barbershops.
The reopening plan hinges on having the cumulative positive test rate remain under 3 percent for three days, reversing a previous goal of having cases decline for two weeks. The Justice administration has not explained why the benchmark was eased but health officials have said the state has enough downward trend lines to lift restrictions. Officials have not given clear benchmarks on what kinds of testing capacity and safety equipment inventory they want to have as part of the reopening strategy.
At least 52 people in the state have died from the virus and around 1,300 have tested positive, according to health data.
setting rules for
5WHEELING — Leaders of Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston say they’re working on plans to resume public mass ceremonies, church officials said.
The diocese released a statement saying it is establishing a series of recommendations for parishes to use before in-person services resume in the state. The parishes will then have to submit an action plan to be approved by Bishop Mark Brennan before public masses can be held.
Gov. Jim Justice has previously said churches can reopen as soon as Sunday if they follow social distancing measures.
The diocese’s news release said its live-streamed services will still continue.