CHARLESTON — Despite calling for his resignation over the weekend, Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday that he has yet to hear from state Del. Joe Jeffries, who is under fire for posting a sexually explicit video on the TikTok social media platform.
Justice has called on Jeffries to resign from the House of Delegates. The lawmaker has already been stripped of his House committee assignments.
Jeffries posted a video last week on TikTok detailing advice for women receiving oral sex. Some have described the video as disgusting, creepy and insulting toward women. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw called the action by Jeffries an “embarrassment.”
As expected, Justice was asked about the controversy during his virtual pandemic briefing Tuesday, but he denied a suggestion by a reporter that the controversy was a black eye on the state Republican Party.
Justice said it didn’t matter whether Jeffries was a Republican or Democrat, he should resign.
“I have not had a conversation with him nor do I want to have a conversation with him,” Justice said. “This man doesn’t need to be in the House of Delegates. That’s all there is to it.”
Despite multiple calls for his resignation, Jeffries has yet to issue a public statement or apology regarding the video.
Justice said the social media posting isn’t the first time Jeffries acted inappropriately, adding that the lawmaker “screamed vulgarities” while walking toward a recent state Senate session.
In other news, Justice confirmed Tuesday that former West Virginia State Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta has been selected by President Joe Biden to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy as the U.S. Drug Czar.
“During his time in West Virginia, Dr. Gupta led the way in our battle against the opioid crisis — something that has and continues to touch the lives of nearly every one of our residents in some way,” Justice said. “Under his leadership, our state had turned a corner in that fight. There’s still much more work to do, especially with the additional challenges brought on in the past year by the COVID-19 pandemic, but I believe that there is no one better-suited to this important job than someone who represented a state and a people where this crisis really hits close to home.”
In terms of COVID-19, Justice said as of Tuesday that 88.7 percent of all state residents aged 65 or older have now received their first vaccine dose. He said 81.4 percent of those age 50 and above also have received their first dose.
“Unbelievable. Unbelievable,” Justice said of the new vaccine numbers. “The older folks have really responded.”
Justice, and Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s COVID-19 Czar, continued to issue warnings Tuesday about the more contagious Delta variant, and the risk it poses to those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, even though the number of confirmed Delta cases in the state still stands at only 17. That’s up from 12 cases a week ago.
“Not being vaccinated puts you at a lot of risk,” Marsh said.
“This Delta variant is coming to West Virginia in a bigger way than it is today,” Justice said. “I hope and pray that it doesn’t come to West Virginia and run across our state like wild, but the odds are it will. It’s moving across our nation. In some places, hospitals are scrambling around trying to find additional respirators. It sounds awfully familiar to the horror stories that we went through over the last year and saw all over the place.”
Justice said the current vaccines are still “great” at protecting against the Delta variant.
“We are continuing to watch the situation,” Justice said. “But, like it or not it, it’s coming to West Virginia and you need to be protected.”
So far only one Delta case has been reported locally, and that case was in McDowell County. The individual who contracted the Delta variant in McDowell County has since recovered.
Mercer County has reported 68 cases of the United Kingdom variant to date, which also is more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain. Also complicating matters in Mercer County is low vaccination rates.
As of Tuesday, only 41.9 percent of Mercer County’s population had received one dose of the vaccine. Only 35.8 percent of the county’s population have received both doses that are required through the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA shots. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine requires only one shot.
The state is reporting a small increase in the number of virus-related hospitalizations, including those involving individuals in ICU and on ventilators.
“We are seeing subtle increases in hospitalizations and ICU,” Marsh said. “We know the Delta variant is growing in West Virginia.”
Contact Charles Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org