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Walmart announces new policies following CDC coronavirus guidance

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Walmart Inc. announced Friday that workers in areas with high coronavirus infections rates will have to wear face masks inside stores and company facilities.

The announcement follows guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending people — including fully vaccinated individuals — wear masks in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high transmission.

Walmart is also encouraging employees to get vaccinated for the coronavirus, noting Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies offer vaccine doses for free. The company has been paying associates $75 to get vaccinated, but it is now doubling the amount to $150.

“Associates who already received the $75 incentive will receive $75 more on their Aug. 19 paychecks,” the company said in a press release. “This incentive program will remain in place until Oct. 4, 2021.”

Employees are also being offered three days of paid leave for any adverse reactions to the vaccines.

“As a country, vaccination options have been available for months, but, unfortunately, because so many people have chosen not to receive it, we’ve left ourselves more vulnerable to variants,” Walmart said. “The Delta variant is a mutation of the original COVID-19 virus and is much more aggressive and transmissible. It is important that necessary steps are taken to keep ourselves and our communities safe.”

Market, regional and division associates who work in multiple facilities as well as campus office associations will be required to be vaccinated by Oct. 4.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources on Friday reported 2,057 active coronavirus cases, including 100 cases of the delta variant.

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Highly touted wideout Kevin Thomas commits to Mountaineers

West Virginia continues to bolster its 2022 recruiting class by putting an emphasis on the City of Brotherly Love.

On Friday, the Mountaineers received a commitment from Kevin Thomas, a 6-foot-3, 202-pound wide receiver from Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia.

Thomas’ pledge to the Mountaineers marks the 16th commit of West Virginia’s 2022 recruiting class and the second straight Neumann-Goretti player to commit after hybrid defender Raleigh Collins III did so last week.

I’m coming home‼⛰ #takemehome22

— Kevin Thomas (@k_thomas8) July 30, 2021

Thomas is listed as a 4-star prospect by Rivals and 3-star prospect by 247 Sports. He had a lengthy list of offers from high-level programs, including: Florida, Texas A&M, Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan State, Oregon, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Maryland and Arizona State.

The Spartans were believed to be the Mountaineers’ biggest threat to land Thomas.

Thomas joins Jarel Williams of Saraland, Alabama as the second wide receiver commit in West Virginia’s upcoming recruiting class.

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Body found in remote area of Randolph County, drowning suspected

LOWER CHEAT, W.Va. — An autopsy is being performed on the body found this week in Randolph County.

According to the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department, authorities responded Thursday to a call about a body being spotted in the Lower Cheat area near Rattlesnake Run.

First responders were able to recover the body a few hours later. Firefighters had to wade through the water to get to the victim.

It’s believed the person drowned. Deputies are continuing their investigation. They are awaiting autopsy results.

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The Education Alliance’s summer intern program winds down with student presentations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — High school students in The Education Alliance’s WV Ready Summer Internship program got the chance to present their capstone projects to company presidents on Friday, marking the end of the summer program.

Appalachian Power President Chris Beam, Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia President Srini Matam, and West Virginia American Water President Robert Burton all observed presentations in separate ceremonies on Friday while Dominion Energy President Robert Blue also observed his groups’ on Wednesday.

Those four companies made up the four-week paid internship program for the summer of 2021. Amelia Courts, President and CEO of The Education Alliance told MetroNews that Friday was exciting, seeing a culmination of all the hard work.

Amelia Courts

“We got to see all of the hard work that all of the interns put into this. The companies as well, working with interns on their projects this summer,” she said.

The program was created in 2019 by The Education Alliance, placing high school juniors and seniors with West Virginia businesses. According to the Alliance, the program placed 25 interns from Berkeley, Harrison, Jefferson, Kanawha, Logan, Mingo, Putnam, Wayne, and Wood Counties at the four businesses.

Two programs were hybrid between in-person and virtual and two were all virtual as COVID-19 played a role in the direction of learning.

Courts said the programs made the most of working during the pandemic and often times made a plus out of it.

“Having that virtual component really opened it up and gave more access. It’s a great way to just showcase the wonderful career opportunities and the education steps that you need to take to have a high-quality job here in West Virginia,” she said.

Courts described one of the capstones with Appalachian Power that was presented on Friday. It was the creation a of PR campaign centered around safety. Each intern with Appalachian Power worked on a separate PR campaign.

“Their theme was ‘If Its Down, Go Around.” They were talking about the dangers of a downed power line. They were coming up with a catchy way so the public would remember to stay away from downed power lines,” Courts said.

Courts was impressed with the growth of the students throughout the summer and credited the companies’ investments into weekly training.

“They did various training modules every Monday that they’ve learned from. One of them was about diversity, another was about the importance of a positive work culture,” Courts said.

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Regents at Texas, Oklahoma vote unanimously to accept invitation to SEC

The board of regents at Texas and Oklahoma voted unanimously Friday to formally accept invitations for both schools to join the Southeastern Conference.

While leaving behind the Big 12, Texas and Oklahoma will make the SEC the first 16-team conference.

“While our university has enjoyed over 25 years in the Big 12 Conference, we recognize that we must be willing to make changes with our eyes on the future,” Texas President Jay Hartzell said. “In a world of uncertainty and change, it is incumbent upon us as leaders to protect and enhance our athletic program and university. In order to do so, we looked at conferences across the country and concluded that the SEC was the best fit for our future.

“The reasons are many: the stability and strength of the league and its leadership, the level of visibility for our student athletes, some of the toughest athletic competition, and exciting stadiums that are similar in capacity and attendance to ours.”

One day after SEC presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to invite Oklahoma and Texas, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey expressed pleasure with the addition of both schools.

“This is an important moment for the long-term future of the Southeastern Conference and our member universities,” Sankey said. “Oklahoma and Texas are outstanding academic institutions with two strong athletics programs, which will add to the SEC’s national prominence. Their additions will further enhance the already rich academic, athletic and cultural legacies that have been cultivated throughout the years by our existing 14 members.”

The question now becomes when the Sooners and Longhorns will officially join the SEC.

In a joint statement released Monday, UT and OU said they intend to remain members of the Big 12 through June 30, 2025 — the date the league’s grant of media rights expires. However, the schools could come to an agreement on a settlement with the league to leave before then, though it likely won’t be cheap.

Jay Hartzell

So long as the Big 12 stays a conference prior to Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, both schools would likely face a cost of no less than $75 million to get out before June 2025.

“We alerted the Big 12 that we would not be renewing our grant of rights agreement in 2025 — four years down the road,” Hartzell said. “We told the Big 12 that we intend to honor our current agreement, while knowing that notice now is the fairest way to allow the conference to plan for its future beyond 2025.”

The remaining eight Big 12 schools — West Virginia, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, TCU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State — could stay together and allow the league to look elsewhere for additions that could make it a 10-or-12-team conference.

On the flip side, any school on that list could act in what it believes is its best interest and seek membership into another league, forcing the Big 12 to disband.

In addition to taking issue with ESPN for its alleged role in conference realignment, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been outspoken against both Texas and Oklahoma.

Bowlsby issued a statement earlier this week after learning each had submitted a request to the SEC for membership. It read in part: The events of recent days have verified that the two schools have been contemplating and planning for the transition for months and this formal application is the culmination of those processes. We are unwavering in the belief that the Big 12 provides an outstanding platform for its members’ athletic and academic success.  We will face the challenges head-on, and we have confidence that the Big 12 will continue to be a vibrant and successful entity in the near term and into the foreseeable future.

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Appalachian Power seeks rate increase to collect money deferred during pandemic year

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Appalachian Power Company says it’s time to collect improvement costs it agreed to defer last year because of the pandemic.

The company was before the state Public Service Commission Friday arguing in favor of two rate increase requests including its Expanded Net Energy Cost (ENEC) rate and its Vegetation Management surcharge.

John Scalzo

Approval of both requests by the PSC would increase the monthly bills of average customers by 4.14% percent or $5.95 a month.

Appalachian Power Vice President John Scalzo testified the company agreed to defer $55 million in the ENEC rate that it should have collected last year. He said now appears to be the right time to seek reimbursement of the money the company has already spent in transmission costs and for construction projects dating back to the end of 2017.

“We’re emerging from a pandemic. It seems like the economy is fairly strong across the nation,” Scalzo said.

Appalachian Power’s fully requested increase of ENEC this year, including the deferral, is approximately $74 million.

West Virginia Energy Users Group (WVEUG) wants about half of the requested amount, $36 million, deferred for another year. WVEUG witness Steve Baron, president of J. Kennedy and Associates, told the PSC Friday the deferral makes sense when considering other rate hike requests Appalachian Power has made.

Steve Baron

“The support for my recommendation is not just the amount of the (proposed) increase but all of the increases the company is requesting, some of which that have already been approved,” Baron said.

He said current requests from Appalachian Power would increase customer rates by $174 million.

Baron predicts the company won’t be asking for so many different rate increases next year so putting off $36 million until then wouldn’t hurt.

“It’s a very large increase ($174 million) and so it’s just not realistic to expect the company would come up with a set for surcharges or other increases that would be consistent with this level. That’s my prediction,” Baron said.

Scalzo argued the company’s costs will continue to grow and it’s going to become more difficult for its customers.

“Somewhere along the line we’re going to have to catch back up,” Scalzo said. “If you do a catch-up and you get there we’ll be in a better spot.”

PSC Chair Charlotte Lane told both sides to submit additional information to support their positions by Aug. 17. The PSC will make a decision at a later date.

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Pride resigns as president of West Virginia State University

INSTITUTE, W.Va. — West Virginia State University President Nicole Pride has resigned after less than a year on the job.

Nicole Pride

The WVSU Board of Governors accepted Pride’s letter of resignation in a unanimous vote Friday afternoon following an executive session that stretched for nearly five hours.

Pride was on the Zoom call when the meeting began but was not when the executive session was over. Pride’s resignation letter said she made her decision “after much reflection.”

The BOG then voted to give new vice president/chief of staff Ericke Cage operational control of the university until an interim president can be chosen. Cage was recently hired by Pride. He began at State on July 19.

Pride has been under fire after several members of her cabinet signed a letter of no confidence and submitted it to the BOG earlier this month.

“Condescending and abusive language are common in exchanges with Dr. Pride,” the group wrote in the letter.

And, “Dr. Pride is known for her retaliatory practices.”

MORE Read ‘no confidence’ letter here

Ericke Cage

Pride was hired last summer and is WVSU’s first woman president. She noted accomplishments of the past year in her resignation letter read Friday by BOG Chairman Chuck Jones.

Pride wrote that under her leadership the financial strength of WVSU had improved along with increases in fundraising and student enrollment. Pride said she appreciated the support of the campus community and the BOG.

WVSU’s Faculty Senate held some open forums in connection with the Pride situation. The senate had not yet taken a vote on the ‘no confidence’ issue. Faculty Senate Chair Jessica Barnes-Pietruszynski issued the following statement to MetroNews Friday afternoon:

“While it is unfortunate that we are in this situation, we trust that the Board of Governors has made the right decision for WVSU. We wish Dr. Pride the best in her future endeavors. However, our faculty are ready to move forward and start this new school year with our focus where it always is, our students.”

Pride began her career in the corporate and non-profit sectors, and left the industry to begin her service in higher education at North Carolina A&T State University, one of the nation’s largest HBCUs. She served as principal liaison and senior adviser to the chancellor, a member of the chancellor’s executive cabinet, and provided strategic and operational support for internal and external constituencies, and held a faculty appointment at the university.

Prior to higher education, she served in numerous capacities at IBM including marketing program manager, corporate learning division, and manager of corporate community relations and public affairs for nearly a decade.

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Superintendents weigh options for masks in W.Va. schools

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — School districts across West Virginia are waiting to hear from the state Department of Education about updated guidance on mask wearing in schools as students and teachers prepare to head back to the classroom.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new recommendations this week suggesting students in all grades wear masks in school regardless of their vaccine status.

Will Hosaflook

Will Hosaflook, superintendent of Wood County Schools, said that will not be the case in his county, unless the state decides otherwise.

“We are going to start the school year without masks, but that can change any second,” Hosaflook told MetroNews.

During a Thursday briefing at the state Capitol, Governor Jim Justice said he has no plans to reissue a mask mandate in schools despite rising COVID-19 cases statewide.

“We don’t see any need to move toward addition mitigation measures at this moment,” Justice said.

Mercer County Schools Superintendent Edward Toman told WVNS-TV he wants to follow the CDC’s recommendations, but is waiting to hear from the state.

Hosaflook said he would encourage everyone in his school district to wear masks regardless of whether they’re vaccinated or not, but that it wouldn’t be required. Schools would still need to follow COVID safety measures.

“We’re not going to abandon all the things that we did last year such as cleaning desks, cleaning school buses every day, trying to stay in cohort groups. A lot of the same mitigation strategies will stay in place,” he said.

A spokesperson with the state DOE told MetroNews they’re planning on releasing guidance for the upcoming school year sometime next week.

“We’ll look at that guidance and I’ll bring the leadership team of Wood County together and we’ll go from there,” Hosaflook said.

Justice on Thursday encouraged more students over the age of 12 to get vaccinated before returning to school.

“From the stand point of getting our kids vaccinated, we would highly recommend that. The more we get vaccinated, the better off we’ll be,” Justice said.

Following last year’s lockdown and virtual lessons, Hosaflook said students learn better when they’re in-person, masked or not.

“We need kids face-to-face in school. That is the most important aspect right now. We need teachers in front of our students and we need students in front of our teachers,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to make that happen.”

The latest COVID-19 numbers from the state Department of Health and Human Resources on Friday showed more than 2,000 active cases. There are 100 Delta variant cases, which is more than double the amount reported a week ago.

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UPDATE: Baby injured in wreck after car taken from convenience store; driver charged

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Huntington man is hospitalized after wrecking a car going the wrong way as he approached a busy bridge in Charleston at a few minutes before 10 a.m. Friday.

Charleston police said Bruce Hargis, 35, had taken the car from a gas pump at the Go-Mart in Kanawha City a few minutes earlier. There was a 7-month-old baby in the backseat. An unidentified woman was left behind at the gas station.

Bruce Hargis

“What we are getting is that he suspected she had called police or somebody had called police, and he just took off. That’s when we got behind him,” said Tony Hazelett Chief of Detectives for the Charleston Police Department.

Police said they first thought the situation was a carjacking but have since learned it was not. The incident appears to be connected to something that happened in Mingo County where a criminal investigation is underway.

Deputies there said Hargis will be charged with malicious wounding and kidnapping after stabbing a man identified as Shane Nelson in the community of Dingess. He then allegedly forced the woman to drive him to Charleston.

Police said an officer spotted the vehicle Hargis was driving through Kanawha City moments after the emergency call was made. Hargis tried to get away and started going the wrong direction on the 35th Street Bridge when he struck an approaching motorist head-on.

“The vehicle evaded an officer and took a right on 35th Street which is the wrong direction. The vehicle sped up and hit an oncoming vehicle head on,” said Hazelett.

Hargis, the motorist and the 7-month-old baby were all injured. The baby suffered a minor head injury, but police confirm the child was strapped into a restrain seat in the back seat of the vehicle. Hargis and the other driver are both in stable condition.

Hargis has so far been charged with Fleeing DUI, DUI with minor, DUI causing Injury, One Way Violation, Red Light Violation, Failure to Maintain Control, Destruction of Property, Seatbelt Violation, and Petit Larceny.

He’s expected to be arraigned after he’s released from the hospital.

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DHHR: Active cases of COVID-19 back above 2,000

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia shot back above 2,000 Friday for the first time since June 21.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources reported active cases at 2,057 after 268 new cases were added.

The agency also reported two new deaths Friday including a 64-year old male from Brooke County and a 42-year old male from Mason County.

“We have lost far too many West Virginians over the course of this pandemic,” state DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said. “It is critical that all who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine schedule an appointment with their medical provider, local pharmacy or through a community vaccination clinic.”

Overall deaths are now at 2,946.

Friday’s dashboard continued to list Delta variant cases at 100. There are 147 people hospitalized with 61 of them in ICU.

According to the dashboard, 68% of residents 12 and older have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The older than 12 who are fully vaccinated is at 56.% of eligible state residents.

DHHR reports as of July 30, 2021, there have been 3,120,149 total confirmatory laboratory results received for #COVID19, with 167,016 total cases and 2,946 total deaths.

— WV Department of Health & Human Resources • 😷 (@WV_DHHR) July 30, 2021

Overall confirmed cases per county include: Barbour (1,542), Berkeley (13,061), Boone (2,205), Braxton (1,052), Brooke (2,271), Cabell (9,089), Calhoun (403), Clay (548), Doddridge (653), Fayette (3,656), Gilmer (895), Grant (1,324), Greenbrier (2,922), Hampshire (1,939), Hancock (2,876), Hardy (1,590), Harrison (6,354), Jackson (2,299), Jefferson (4,868), Kanawha (15,712), Lewis (1,355), Lincoln (1,618), Logan (3,342), Marion (4,764), Marshall (3,609), Mason (2,132), McDowell (1,670), Mercer (5,286), Mineral (3,013), Mingo (2,820), Monongalia (9,512), Monroe (1,242), Morgan (1,271), Nicholas (1,955), Ohio (4,383), Pendleton (726), Pleasants (964), Pocahontas (690), Preston (2,978), Putnam (5,470), Raleigh (7,183), Randolph (2,891), Ritchie (774), Roane (673), Summers (870), Taylor (1,324), Tucker (551), Tyler (764), Upshur (2,028), Wayne (3,237), Webster (610), Wetzel (1,426), Wirt (469), Wood (8,050), Wyoming (2,106).

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