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Gov. Justice COVID illness postpones State of the State address

FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2020, file photo, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice delivers his annual State of the State address in the House Chambers at the state capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Gov. Justice has told people for years that they need only look at the lines at Dairy Queen to see how much the state's economy has improved since he took office. Heading into a 2020 reelection campaign, the billionaire Republican governor has been on a highlight tour where he has repeatedly told the public that the state's job numbers are the best in a decade.(AP Photo/Chris Jackson, File)

CHARLESTON – Gov. Jim Justice’s sixth State of the State address since taking office in 2017 will have to wait due to testing positive for COVID-19.

The West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates announced Wednesday there would be no joint evening session of the Legislature because Justice’s COVID-19 infection caused him to cancel the annual address to the public, lawmakers, statewide elected officials and invited guests.

The state Constitution requires the governor to present information to the Legislature by message “…of the condition of the state,” as well as the budget bill for the next fiscal year. House Communications Director Ann Ali said the budget bill would also be presented to lawmakers Wednesday.

The Governor’s Office announced late Tuesday night that Justice tested positive for COVID-19 after showing symptoms, including a cough, congestion, a headache and fever, earlier Tuesday. The press release said Justice had mild symptoms and Justice said in a statement he felt “extremely unwell.”

“While I was surprised that my test results came back positive, I’m thankful to the Lord above that I’ve been vaccinated, I’ve been boosted, and that I have an incredible support system, especially my loving family,” Justice said.

Justice’s condition is being monitored by Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar and vice president/executive dean for Health Sciences at West Virginia University, and Justice’s daughter, Dr. Jill Justice.

Speaking Wednesday morning after an economic development announcement in front of the Capitol, Brian Abraham, Justice’s Chief of Staff, said he spoke with the governor and his condition had not improved.

“He’s not doing so well today,” Abraham said. “He’s obviously got around-the-clock medical care. Dr. Marsh is working with his daughter, but this is serious. He’s under the weather obviously.”

Justice was originally supposed to participate in a Wednesday morning announcement with GreenPower Motor Co. Inc. The company entered into an agreement with the state to lease or purchase a 9.5-acre manufacturing facility in South Charleston to manufacture electric school buses. The plant is expected to initially hire 200 workers, ramping up to more than 900 new jobs by the end of 24 months. The announcement was handled by Abraham, Department of Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael, Senate President and Lt. Gov. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay.

Other economic development projects were expected to be announced during Wednesday’s State of the State, but those announcements will come at a later date. A 3 p.m. economic development announcement also was postponed in the wake of the governor’s infection.

The Legislature just wrapped up a special session, passing bills to lure what sources believe to be North-Carolina-based NUCOR, a steel manufacturer, to Mason County for a new electric arc furnace steel mill. The yet-unnamed company would hire as many as 800 full-time employees and require more than 1,000 construction jobs over a two-year period, resulting in a $2.7 billion investment. The same company also is considering a transloading facility in Weirton.

“It’s terrible news at the worst time, but the important thing is what this will do for West Virginia’s economy and what this will do for West Virginia’s image,” Abraham said. “These jobs coming here couldn’t come at a better time.”

Justice expressed his disappointment in his Tuesday night statement, which Abraham reiterated Wednesday.

“I know (Justice) is,” Abraham said. “He’s worked tirelessly for months now on all these projects. He’s been the leader in it. Again, nobody else can convey his passion for bringing these businesses to West Virginia.”

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