(The Center Square) – West Virginia will provide in-school COVID-19 vaccine clinics throughout the year, Gov. Jim Justice announced as classes have gotten underway in most districts.
“Everything points toward one thing, and that is you have to get vaccinated,” Justice said in a news conference. “We have got to get vaccinated. The more that are vaccinated, the less that will die.”
The state will fund clinics within schools in each of the 55 counties, although there might not be a clinic in every school. The county will make decisions on which locations will have the biggest impact and will also be able to move clinics to other schools if necessary.
Superintendent Clayton Burch said that counties will usually choose central locations, such as a high school or a middle school. He said many of these clinics will also be open to other community members. He said it will be similar to clinics provided in schools during the summer.
Since classes began this month, there have been 20 COVID-19 outbreaks within the state’s 700 public schools. Burch announced that the Department of Education has been tracking outbreaks and changes to mitigation efforts within schools and this information will now be available on the Department of Education’s website. This also includes demographics regarding the pandemic funding.
Justice has generally allowed local school districts to manage COVID-19 mitigation measures how they see fit, rather than imposing statewide mandates. Although he has floated the possibility of a public school mask mandate, he said during the news conference that he intends to leave the decision up to localities.
The governor said local officials make better decisions than those at the state level. If the state were to impose a statewide mandate, he said there would be an uprising of people trying to reverse it and it would fragment the state. He said the consequences of imposing the mandate would put West Virginia in a worse position than it is in now.
Vaccination rates are lower in West Virginia than most states, but rates vary greatly among different age groups. Older residents are much more likely to get the vaccine, while younger people are getting it in lower numbers.
More than 91% of those ages 65 and older have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine and more than 80% have been fully vaccinated. Less than 85% of the population aged 50 and older have gotten at least one dose and more than 72% are fully vaccinated. More than 71% of those aged 12 or older have gotten the vaccine and more than 58% have been fully vaccinated.
The governor said the state is ready to provide vaccination shots for children under the age of 12 when the federal government gives its approval.