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CHARLESTON — West Virginia is sending out funding to help reimburse stressed hospitals for staffing issues during the coronavirus pandemic, a state health official said Thursday.

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 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.”

There were 11,629 active COVID-19 cases in the state Thursday and 27 virus-related deaths, for a total of 3,866.

Fifty-two percent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, according to data from the DHHR’s COVID-19 dashboard. Breakthrough cases account for 20% of people hospitalized in the state, although most of those people are older and have underlying conditions.

Gov. Jim Justice said he believes the current surge is starting to slow in the state but that people still need to get vaccinated to ensure as many lives as possible are saved.

Also Thursday, Justice diverted his COVID-19 briefing to criticize Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin’s request to have a special session to address challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

Goodwin’s letter was addressed to Justice and legislative leaders. In it, she listed initiatives undertaken by the city to support people struggling with homelessness, substance use disorder and mental health.

There also were seven recommendations for the West Virginia Legislature to implement statewide that Goodwin believes will improve support systems locally for all municipalities.

“Make no mistake — what is this really all about?” Justice said. “It’s nothing but a political move to cover up (Goodwin’s) deficiencies.”

Justice railed against the city of Charleston, questioning why anyone would want to replicate social service models created in Charleston — which service providers in the region regularly praise. His diatribe included no mention of the pandemic’s effects on marginalized groups, including those who are homeless and who use drugs.

As he finished, Justice took one last shot at Goodwin, calling her “baby.”

“Amy, baby, listen,” he said, “if you can get the Legislature to go along with this, I’m all in.”

In a statement sent via text message Thursday, Goodwin urged people to look past the “sexist remarks” and realize that this is “unfortunately what women across the country experience daily.”

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