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Former Mylan employee files lawsuit alleging discrimination

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A former employee of the Mylan Pharmaceuticals facility in Morgantown has filed a lawsuit alleging the company of age and disability discrimination.

According to the lawsuit, 62-year-old Kenneth K. Zara began as a blender with the company in April 2007. He became the fluid bed coordinator by 2013.

The lawsuit alleges Zara’s supervisors encouraged him to consider early retirement or take a lesser position. Zara was later assigned tasks he was untrained to complete and fired in January 2019.

There is also an allegation that Zara was treated differently from younger employees who had made more severe mistakes.

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Mon Health System reporting declining coronavirus cases

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Coronavirus cases within Mon Health System are declining, according to its leading official.

Mon Health System on Tuesday reported 11 coronavirus patients. The state Department of Health and Human Resources the same day reported 582 hospitalizations related to the pandemic across West Virginia, in which 152 people are receiving intensive care treatment and 64 people are on ventilators.

David Goldberg, Mon Health System’s president and CEO, said Preston Memorial Hospital, Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital and Grafton City Hospital had 55 total cases at one point of the pandemic.

“We’ve had capacity, and we still have capacity to take care of people and their healthcare needs, but we are trending down,” he stated in an interview with WAJR-AM.

Vaccination efforts are increasing, in which more than 166,000 West Virginians have received the first doses. More than 43,000 residents are fully vaccinated.

“Now that schools are coming back into play, the university students are back and populations are mixing,” Goldberg noted. “This is not the time to stop social distancing, not the time to stop masking. Wear your mask, be responsible and we can bend the curve.”

Monongalia Health Department, Mon Health System and WVU Medicine on Monday announced a new partnership aimed at increasing vaccine administration efforts.

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US Senate moving forward with second Trump impeachment trial despite GOP opposition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate faced its first test with former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial on Tuesday when lawmakers tabled a motion dismissing the proceedings as unconstitutional.

The Senate voted 55-45 to move forward with the trial, in which 45 Republicans voted against taking up the case. The vote happened after senators took oaths to be impartial jurors.

While the trial will start during the week of Feb. 8, Tuesday’s vote raises doubts about the likelihood of the Senate convicting Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot, in which five people died.

For the Senate to convict Trump, 67 senators will have to vote Trump is guilty of encouraging supporters to storm the Capitol. The Senate is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaker if necessary.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., proposed the motion. Following the vote, he described the case as “dead on arrival.”

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. (File)

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined Democratic colleagues in supporting the trial. Five Republicans — Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Utah’s Mitt Romney, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey — also backed continuing with the proceedings.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., voted alongside a majority of her Republican colleagues.

Capito previously told MetroNews it is unsettled if a trial can proceed after an impeached person leaves office. She said Tuesday the impeachment process was designed to address issues involving officeholders when they are in power.

“The Constitution does not give Congress the power to impeach a private citizen,” she said in a statement.

“This charge is directed at an individual who no longer holds public office. I believe it is time we focus our attention and energies on the numerous challenges our country presently faces. Instead of taking a path of divisiveness, let us heed the call to unity that we have heard spoken so often over the past few weeks.”

The House of Representatives impeached Trump on Jan. 13, a week before he left the White House. West Virginia’s House members — Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller — opposed impeaching Trump for a second time.

Congress has impeached one federal official after they left office; the House in March 1876 passed five articles of impeachment against William Belknap for his actions as secretary of war. The chamber approved the charges following Belknap’s resignation the same day.

None of the Senate’s votes met the two-thirds requirement to convict Belknap, resulting in his acquittal.

Trump is the third president to be impeached and the first former president whose trial happened after their tenure. He is also the first president impeached twice.

Toomey argued the Senate has the authority to proceed with the trial.

“In my view, the text and context of the Constitution, the meaning of the term ‘impeachment’ to the founders, and the most relevant precedents indicate that it is constitutionally permissible for the Senate to consider the impeachment of President Trump,” he said in a statement.

Toomey previously said Trump could face “criminal liability” for the violence.

House managers and the former president’s defense team have until Feb. 2 to submit a pretrial brief and response to the article respectively. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has stated senators will conduct other business in the meantime.

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Marshall University commits to go plastic-free by 2026

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall University has made a commitment to go plastic-free by 2026, another step by the institution’s initiative to go green.

Marshall announced Monday that President Jerome Gilbert recently signed the ‘Break Free from Plastic Campus Pledge,’ which is a campus-wide commitment to eliminate all single-use disposable plastics such as plastic cups and takeout containers.

The pledge specifically addresses accessibility and exclusivity concerns and generates a framework for college campuses and other institutions to develop long-term systemic solutions to issues around waste and disposable consumption, according to a release.

Amy Parsons-White, Marshall’s Sustainability Manager told MetroNews that the university is the only school in Appalachia to take the pledge.

Amy Parsons-White

“We are working very hard to make sure that we are responsible stewards and doing everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce the waste that we as a university produces,” Parsons-White said.

She told MetroNews that the initiative was led by the Marshall University Sustainability Club and supported by the non-profit Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN).

Parsons-White said there are many benefits to this move including reducing the amount of waste headed to the landfill. She said that plastic can be around for thousands of years and ultimately only 30% of the plastics sent to recycling facilities actually get recycled.

“That adds up to a lot of waste with no place to go. It ends up in the oceans, in the ground and microplastics have even been found in our drinking water. This can pose a health risk to people and animals,” Parsons-White said.

Parsons-White also said there is cost-savings with this initiative, even though the vegetable-based plastics cost more upfront. She said the money to be saved is in the reduction of the waste haul to landfills, where Marshall spends $90 a ton to recycle plastics on campus.

She tied this announcement together with the university’s new compost facility, which will turn the waste into a sellable product.

“We can take the items that used to be single-use plastic, replace them slowly but surely over the next five years with compostable items and gradually reduce our waste haul while increasing the items we are able to compost on campus,” she said.

Marshall is nearing the opening of the first commercial composting facility in West Virginia following the arrival of a large digester on January 12. The facility is set to be fully operational by March 2021.

“By reducing our plastic on campus, we are hoping to take that first step for the entire region to do away with single use plastics and change to things that can be broken down to reduce waste overall,” Parsons-White said.

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Judge declines to halt return-to-school mandate while teachers conclude vaccinations

A Kanawha Circuit judge denied a temporary restraining order for teachers unions who wanted to hold up a return to classrooms long enough to give educators enough time for two doses of covid-19 vaccine.

Judge Carrie Webster

Judge Carrie Webster made the ruling Tuesday afternoon at the end of a hearing that lasted more than two hours. She concluded the case did not reach a standard of irreparable harm.

“I think there is greater risk, but without certainty that people will become gravely sick or will contract it and have adverse health consequences. It’s speculative,” Webster said. “The reality is, people are working every day in environments that are less safe than the school system.”

American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia issued a statement shortly after the ruling to express disappointment. The union said it was considering legal options.

Fred Albert

“AFT-WV still believes these decisions are best left to the local boards of education, who are elected by the citizens of their communities to govern their local schools,” said AFT-WV President Fred Albert.

The West Virginia Education Association also expressed disappointment.

Dale Lee

“Decisions to teach in-person, remotely, hybrid and online should be a local decision, made by those who are the most impacted and who best understand how to best educate students safely,” stated WVEA President Dale Lee.

“While some areas may be able to safely return to in-person learning, for others it is an entirely different situation. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ does not fit the learning needs all of our students when it comes to instructing our children or to returning to in-person learning in the middle of the pandemic.”

The return to classrooms has been a battle in West Virginia and nationally.

Gov. Jim Justice set a goal of returning to classrooms by Jan. 19. The state school board laid out a mandate that allowed for a hybrid schedule, with students alternating between in-class and online learning. High school grades would stay home if a map of covid spread is at the highest level.

All West Virginia counties — some under pressure — have agreed to the standard laid out by the state.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced conclusions that schools are largely safe places to gather if masks and social distancing are enforced.

Judge Webster weighed health risks against the well-being of students, some of whom have bad home environments or lack access to internet.

“I give deference to the board of education,” she said. “I do believe it is vested to act as the policymaker for the public school system in West Virginia. I do not find that what they have done through their policy with the protective measures in place has created the type of irreparable harm that has been asserted in the petition.”

Webster heard complaints from the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association, separate filings that were rolled into one case.

The unions aimed to halt in-person teaching in Kanawha County until all education employees have the opportunity for a second vaccine dose. That’s likely to be provided in the first and second week of February, although recent issues about national supply have made that less clear. Experts say vaccinations need a week to become fully effective, too.

“It is our position that the brakes should be pumped slightly to get to the middle of February and get the vaccine for the teachers who want it,” said Jeffrey Blaydes, a lawyer for AFT-WV.

He added, “We are not asking for a lengthy, unlimited period of time. We are simply asking you to pause and let these folks get their second vaccination. Several weeks of remote instruction makes sense.”

The teachers unions also wanted a court ruling for the authority of local boards of education “in protecting the health and safety of the community and their students and education employees.” The unions suggested such a ruling would protect the constitutional rights of teachers and service personnel statewide. Webster did not rule on this aspect of the case today.

The lawyers for the teachers unions acknowledged that the option for hybrid schedules reduces student population at any one time, but they said that doesn’t go far enough to minimize risk.

“Try to socially distance when an 8 year old comes up and says I can’t zip up my coat,” Blaydes said. “Or when you are doing lunch duty in your classroom and everybody has the mask off and one of the kids has trouble opening the ketchup.”

The lawyers for the teachers unions argued that while teachers still don’t have the protection of a full vaccine regimen, they also have lost the protection offered by the state map that dictated remote learning for all grade levels when community covid levels grew high.

“The pandemic is clearly bad and getting worse, but the state’s reaction is to go from remote learning to less and less and less remote,” said Andrew Katz, lawyer for WVEA.

The attorney for the state school board, Kelli Talbott, said there are precautions in place for teachers but that officials have to balance health concerns in the classroom with risks if students stay home — falling behind, getting depressed or contending with the long-term effects of poverty.

“If there is no public interest in seeing our kids in school, I don’t know what public interest means,” said Talbott, a lawyer with the state Attorney General’s Office.

The teachers unions filed suit against Kanawha County, the state’s largest, contending that would set a precedent for the rest of the state. Lindsey McIntosh, counsel for Kanawha County, agreed that remote learning puts many students at risk of falling behind.

And McIntosh questioned whether second doses of vaccine can be accomplished as swiftly and efficiently as the unions portrayed.

“Without having them scheduled, this may be another prolonged delay that we cannot afford and that our children in schools cannot afford either,” McIntosh said.

President Biden has described returning to classrooms as one of his top priorities, but the new president has said that must be done with attention to safety. Biden has asked Congress for $130 billion to to reduce class sizes, improve building ventilation, pay for protective gear and ensure nurses are available. And the president has promised better federal guidance.

“Today we’re directing the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services to immediately provide schools and communities with clear guidance and resources to safely reopen the schools and child care centers,” Biden said on his first day in office.

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‘We wanted Deuce to take over the game’; McBride sparks late WVU rally

(Game video recap)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The morning after rallying back from a 12-point deficit with under just eight minutes to play to defeat Texas Tech 88-87, West Virginia jumped up to a No. 4 seed in Joe Lunardi’s ESPN Bracketology. Half of WVU’s four Big 12 victories have come by erasing sizable second half deficits. The Mountaineers rallied from 19 points down at Oklahoma State three weeks ago.

The Red Raiders made five consecutive shots from the floor in the second half to build their lead to a game-best 12 points with 7:11 to go. West Virginia’s defense tightened down the stretch as Tech went 4-for-13 from the field the rest of the way.

“The biggest thing is we got stops when we needed to. We gave up a couple rebounds here and there. But Gabe (Osabuohien) got a stop late, contested a three. That was a big stop for us there,” said WVU guard Sean McNeil.

While Tech struggled to find the bottom of the basket in the final minutes, WVU made their last ten shots from the floor. And Deuce McBride nearly couldn’t miss. In the second half, the sophomore guard went 6-for-7 from the field and scored 19 points. He ended the contest with a team-high 24 points. McBride’s go-ahead basket with five seconds left was set up by Taz Sherman drawing a defender away from the basket.

“Taz made a great effort play. He was able to start low and took his guy. He was a step slow and I knew I could beat him around the corner. I give it to Taz for making that play, honestly. I just had to finish it off,” McBride said.

“At the end of the game, we wanted Deuce to take over the game. We wanted him to draw the defense and pitch it. Sean hit that big three for us when he did that and then Deuce did the rest on his own,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins.

Amazingly, West Virginia prevailed despite Tech’s 25-0 advantage in points off turnovers. In 75 possessions, the Red Raiders turned the ball over twice. The last time a WVU opponent committed less than five turnovers in a game the Mountaineers won happened eleven years ago. Notre Dame turned the ball over just four times in their loss to WVU in the 2010 Big East Tournament.

“We’re still trying to get through a lot of little mistakes. Not forcing a team into turnovers is not our style. And with us giving them the ball, it is hard to win Big 12 games. It obviously shows we have a lot of fight in us and we are not going to back down from anybody,” McBride said.

Jalen Bridges (2) shoots a three pointer over Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Mac McClung (0) (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

Six Mountaineers scored in double figures. Jalen Bridges was efficient once again in his expanded role as a starter. In just under 20 minutes, the redshirt freshman from Fairmont was 5-for-8 from the field. He scored 13 points and grabbed 5 rebounds. Bridges has scored in double figures in three of his five games since entering the starting lineup.

“We have to get him to rebound it a little bit more, which he is very capable of doing as well,” Huggins said.

West Virginia has won Big 12 games while yielding 47, 65, 84 and 87 points. McBride knows the Mountaineers have proven capable of winning in a variety of ways.

“We all know we can score the ball. That is one of our plusses this year,” McBride said. “But we can’t give teams forty points in the paint. If we can add those old Huggs teams’ defensive mentality with our scoring, I think we are going to be hard to beat.”

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Renaming of Charleston street after fallen police officer moves step closer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The idea of renaming a Charleston street after a fallen city police officer is one step closer to reality.

The city council’s Planning, Streets and Traffic Committee passed a resolution Monday evening to give Garrison Avenue the honorary name of Patrolman Cassie Johnson Avenue. The resolution now heads to the full city council, which meets next week.

Officer Cassie Johnson

Johnson, 28, was shot on Garrison Avenue while responding to a call on December 1 and died in the hospital two days later. She grew up in Charleston’s Westmoreland neighborhood, which surrounds Garrison Avenue.

Mary Beth Hoover, a councilwoman representing Ward 9 and the chair of the Planning, Streets and Traffic Committee, told MetroNews affiliate 580-WCHS in Charleston, fellow councilwoman Shannon Snodgrass and Charleston Police Department (CPD) Lt. Jamey Noland have led this project.

Noland worked with Johnson on CPD’s D-Shift, as Johnson patrolled the Westmoreland neighborhood daily.

“It’s a wonderful way to honor her and honor the community she was serving,” Hoover said.

She added that she fully expects it to pass through council next Monday and from that point be close to an unveiling. Hoover, who has been chair of that committee for two years, said there could be an unveiling and ceremony within a couple of weeks.

The renaming process of the near 2-mile road was started two weeks ago when the Municipal Planning Commission received a submission from Snodgrass on behalf of Johnson’s shift.

“It’s fantastic to watch and know,” Hoover said of the city’s togetherness. “We all love Charleston but in the moments like this when we all pull together, you get to see our true nature. It’s great to see.”

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VA reopens part of Clarksburg hospital where murders took place

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — The Clarksburg VA Medical Center announced Tuesday that it has reopened the area of the hospital where a former nursing assistant worked and took the lives of seven veterans.

The hospital said a month-long safety stand down has been completed in the 3A general medical/surgical unit at the facility. It said it’s focused the last 30 days on training, procedures and staffing.

Reta Mays

The VA originally announced the safety stand down on Christmas Eve following its completion of an internal investigation into the case of former nursing assistant Reta Mays. The results included the replacement of Medical Center Director Dr. Glenn Snider Jr.

Mays, 46, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty earlier this year to killing 7 veterans by injecting them with insulin. Her attorneys have asked the judge to delay her sentencing.

The charges and plea followed a two-year investigation that began after several suspicious deaths were reported, possibly as many as 20. Mays had access to the veterans’ hospital rooms. She wasn’t supposed to have access to insulin.

The VA’s response came after an Administrative Investigation Board’s report which focused on patient safety issues and culture at the Clarksburg hospital.

“What happened at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center was unacceptable, and we want to ensure that Veterans and families know we are determined to restore their trust in the facility,” Veterans Health Administration’s Executive in Charge, Dr. Richard Stone said in that Christmas Eve news release. “Transparency and accountability are key principles at VA, and they will guide our efforts in this regard.”

Barbara Forsha (Photo/Veterans Administration)

The Clarksburg VAMC said Tuesday that during the past month it’s been able to focus on education and training as it relates to patient safety.

Acting Medical Center Director Barbara Forsha said Tuesday the goal is to “ensure a top-notch environment of care for North Central West Virginia Veterans.” She said during the last month they’ve “implemented new and improved processes for oversight and management of all patient care units; and ensured we have a strong, experienced leadership staff onboard to rebuild trust and improve transparency and accountability.”

Forsha will continue to serve as acting director. There’s a nursing leadership team at the hospital along with an experienced hospitalized, the VA said.

A Tuesday news release from the hospital listed the following items as improvement to patient care that was accomplished during the safety stand down:

Education and Training

Retraining of all Clarksburg VAMC personnel involved in reporting urgent issues throughout the chain of command.
Reviewing of core and unit-specific competencies and performance measures for nurses.
Educating on culture of safety and patient safety.
High Reliability Organization training to maximize safety and minimize harm.
Educating on electronic health record documentation to ensure universality.
Reviewing entire patient admission assessment process.

Procedural Operations

Establishing a Gemba board as a visual management tool visible to all members of a workplace, to track status on the medical/surgical unit.
Consistent rounding by nurses and doctors on all wards, including hourly rounding by nurses and 12-hour rounding by nursing leadership to conduct a physical assessment of each patient.
Implementing Clinical Pathways to guide evidence-based health care.

Staffing

VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System Deputy Director Barbara L. Forsha continuing to serve as the Clarksburg VAMC’s acting medical center director.
Ensuring a detailed nursing leadership team is onsite.
Putting in place an acting inpatient director of hospitalists who is an experienced hospitalist in the community.

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Delegate pushes for increased vaccine supplies to rural W.Va.

RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice indicated during his most recent COVID-19 briefing he is leaning heavily on those within the Biden administration to get more COVID-19 vaccine to West Virginia. The state is equipped to handle administering 125,000 shots a day across the state according to the Governor, if they can just get the vaccine.

Steve Westfall

Clinics in some of the state’s larger cities have show the capacity to efficiently handle the vaccine when it’s on hand. Last weekend, Charleston staged a clinic in which they were able to deliver almost 4,000 doses on Saturday. During a three day period nearly 6,500 were vaccinated. The only obstacle is getting enough of the serum.

That’s particularly difficult in rural areas of the state who believe they are even more neglected.

“I truly believe our local health department and a lot of local health department’s are capable of getting it out and into people’s arms, but we just can’t get the vaccine right now in Jackson County or in West Virginia,” said Del. Steve Westfall of Jackson County in an interview with MetroNews affiliate WMOV Radio in Ravenswood.

Westfall said he’s unsure what it will take to get more vaccine into the state, but he’s hoping it will flow faster. He  contends rural areas, like those he represents, are being shortchanged on chances for a shot.

“It’s a problem. We’re not getting it in Jackson County as we should. I’ve been calling the Governor’s office and trying to get more than we get. They tell us they’re not getting from the federal government what they need,” he explained.

According to Westfall, he was told the state is requesting more than 100,000 doses a week and were getting fewer than 30,000 doses a week.

“I’m not sure what we can do, but we’ve got to do all we can to get the vaccine out especially to rural areas of the state like Jackson and Roane counties,” he said.

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Groundhog Day celebration to be virtual for 2021

FRENCH CREEK, W.Va. — The annual Groundhog Day festivities at the West Virginia Wildlife Center for 2021 will be virtual. Due to Covid 19 the annual gathering to celebrate the critter will have to be cancelled and instead will be only an online prognostication of the coming weather pattern.

“We’ve normally had pretty steady interest in the event. It’s actually gone from a 20 minute thing to almost a multi-day celebration in the community. During the past couple of years when it’s been on the weekend we’ve had almost 450 people,” said Trevor Moore, Wildlife Biologist at the Wildlife Center in Upshur County.

“French Creek Freddie” is the star of the annual show. He’s the state’s official groundhog and his prediction which is always checked at 10 a.m. has been fairly accurate. During 2020 he predicted an early spring, and according to facility operators he nailed it. This year, we may have to wait to know what Freddie decided.

“This is a big switch for us with Covid. It’s all going to be on-line and on social media. All indications I’ve heard is it will be recorded and then posted around noon barring any major problems,” he said.

The Wildlife Center, one of the DNR’s main educational outreach tools, uses Groundhog Day each year to deliver some education about the critter.  The origins of the day can be traced back to German’s who migrated to America many years ago. Back in Europe, the tradition was to use a hedgehog to determine whether there would be six more weeks of winter or an early spring.

“It was originally in Pennsylvania and once they got here the closest thing they could find was a groundhog and I guess it took off from there,” Moore explained.

He added groundhogs are also true hibernators. During the deepest days of winter, they’ll go into the burrow and their body temperature will drop to the ambient temperature, heart rate will slow to just a couple of beats a minute and they’ll take no more than one or two breaths a minute.

“They’re in a really deep sleep when they hibernate,” he explained.

The emergence in the early days of February, according to Moore, is tied to breeding.

“They start breeding in the early spring and that’s actually part of why the come out around Groundhog Day . They come out and look for new burrows to go meet mates,” he said.

Otherwise, the critters, which are actually members of the squirrel family, are typically solitary and rarely have interactions with other groundhogs. However, they spend the spring and summer months digging and eating. According to Moore they can move 700 pounds of dirt to create a network of burrows and eat a pound to two pounds of vegetation daily in preparation for their winter hibernation.

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