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Justice continues to address Greenbrier drama, school re-entry push-back

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice had more to say Wednesday after being questioned earlier in the week about a New Year’s Eve party at the Justice-owned Greenbrier Resort that was lax on COVID-19 protocols.

Speaking Wednesday during his coronavirus briefing at the State Capitol Building, Justice also criticized teachers’ unions concerned about returning to school on Tuesday, Jan. 19, and parents upset that the start of Winter sports was pushed until Monday, March 1.

“There are some that are going to become upset, and then there are some that are going to cast stones,” Justice said. “I have said this repeatedly, and I’m not going to say this again after today. I want you to know that there’s no way on Earth and I’m going to do anything whatsoever in this capacity in this job to benefit me. There’s no way.”

Justice was asked by media Monday about a 14-second video showing partygoers at the historic Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs on New Year’s Eve in the crowded upper lobby not maintaining 6 feet of social distancing and not wearing masks as required indoors.

Justice, who hasn’t placed the Greenbrier Resort into a blind trust to protect himself against charges of running his hotel, turned control of the hotel over to his daughter Jill in 2017 when he first became governor. The Greenbrier is one of 116 businesses owned by Justice, with the majority managed by his son Jay. Only seven of Justice’s businesses are in blind trusts, including the Glade Springs Resort in Raleigh County.

Justice maintains that he was unaware of any New Year’s Eve party at the Greenbrier, preferring to watch New Year’s Eve events by TV from his home in nearby Lewisburg.

“I have been accused often of running my family businesses,” Justice said. “I’ve had rocks thrown at me for running my family businesses. I’m going to tell you, I run your state as your governor. From the standpoint of running my family businesses — especially in this situation — I had no clue.”

The Governor read a statement from Greenbrier, stating that all COVID-19 guidelines and requirements for hotels and casinos were adhered to by staff of the hotel. According to the statement, partygoers only removed masks to consume food or drinks, and that the crowd in the video gathered for just a few minutes as the clock counted down to 2021.

“Some guests in attendance were not wearing face coverings. Those guests appeared to be actively drinking without a face covering, which is allowed per the guidelines,” the statement read. “One of our event managers said that these people that were at that gathering in the upper lobby, they gathered around 11:45 p.m. and were dispersed by 12:03 a.m.”

“In other words, in 18 minutes they gathered and were dispersed,” Justice said. “The Greenbrier has always taken the COVID pandemic seriously and its effects on our guests and staff very seriously.”

Justice said the Greenbrier is continuing to investigate the incident and will take actions against any employee or staff member if COVID-19 precautions were not taken.

Turning to education, Justice pushed back on the state’s two teachers’ unions who have come out against re-opening Pre-K, elementary, and middle schools regardless of the color of a county on the County Alert System map. High schools can also re-open as long as a county is not listed as red.

Teachers age 50 and older will receive COVID-19 vaccinations starting today, though the unions are concerned that teachers will only have time to receive the first shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines before the Jan. 19 start date. The Pfizer vaccine requires a second shot after 21 days, while the Moderna vaccine requires a second shot after 28 days.

“Without any question, we should be going back to school,” Justice said. “I’ll continue to talk to our educators, but I will absolutely not be bullied around by the teachers’ unions.”

Justice also addressed parents and coaches upset that Winter sports will not start until March 1, especially in light of the Greenbrier New Year’s Eve party.

“One of the questions the other day was … how do you feel about telling an assistant coach or whatever that they’re not going to be able to play and you’ve got this terrible event going on at your place,” Justice said. “Just answer one question: do you really believe today that we ought to be playing high school indoor sports when grandmas will want to come and everything else? Do you really believe that we ought to have our kids and bus drivers and whatever it may be — parents or whatever — traveling all across our state?”

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