CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice pledged $2.5 million in CARES Act funds Friday for COVID-19 testing for college and university students and staff upon their return to campus during the upcoming semester.
“We are pledging, right now, $2.5 million to go toward our smaller schools because WVU and Marshall have their own plans and they’re working them great,” Gov. Justice said. “But, for our smaller schools, we will support them with the funds and then we will defer to them as far as determining exactly how they’re going to do the testing.
“But we’ll pass the torch right to our institutions and say, ‘Let’s go,’” Justice said. “Let’s test everybody that’s going to be on one of our campuses.”
The funding will come out of West Virginia’s portion of Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds, provided by the U.S. Department of Education to support educational needs in each state related to COVID-19. The GEER funds, approved by Congress through the CARES Act, are a separate allocation from the $1.25 billion in discretionary funds appropriated to West Virginia.
The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission will ensure the institutions that need the funds to fully test their students and staff get what they need.
Justice has also asked the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia National Guard to provide resources and support as needed to carry out the testing.
Fairmont State University President Mirta Martin, who leads the West Virginia’s Council of Presidents, which is comprised of all of the colleges and universities across the state, joined Justice in the briefing.
“Today’s announcement that you have earmarked funds to help us test all of our students, faculty, and staff is evidence of your resolve to place the needs of our state and of our institutions first,” Martin said. “Governor Justice, on behalf of West Virginia’s universities and colleges, please accept our very heartfelt and sincere gratitude for your support.
“While this pandemic has been the defining event of our lifetime, you, Mr. Governor, have brought optimism, ambition, and heartfelt care to West Virginia,” Martin continued. “You have guided our state by putting ambition into action and we are so very grateful.”
“We all want to go back to school, but we’ve got to do it right, we’ve got to do it as safe as we possibly can,” Justice said. “We’ve got to protect our students, our faculties, and our communities. We’ve got to protect all those around us.”
Sarah Armstrong Tucker, chancellor of West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System, on Friday welcomed Justice's plan for COVID-19 testing.
“Our public institutions are working shoulder-to-shoulder with one another, the Governor’s office, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the National Guard, and their local health departments to protect those within and around our campuses," Tucker said. "This accelerated testing, combined with the far-reaching health and safety protocols schools have already activated, will allow students to continue their education – which is critical to their futures and the future of our state – with greater peace of mind.”