Three West Virginia counties have been removed from coronavirus hotspot status.
That means Jackson, Kanawha and Ohio counties are able to transition to lessened restrictions that will start Monday as part of Governor Justice’s “Safer at Home” order.
A statement issued Sunday night by the Governor’s Office indicated that four more counties — Cabell, Marion, Wood and Wayne counties — are under consideration to have their hotspot status removed.
And four more counties — Berkeley, Jefferson, Harrison and Monongalia counties — remain as hotspots with no immediate consideration for change, according to the Governor’s Office.
The statement from the Governor’s Office said those four counties had requested remaining on the hotspot list.
There was no particular explanation of why some counties were removed or how exactly a hotspot is defined. An accompanying executive order simply said the state’s public health experts had concluded it’s appropriate now to remove some counties.
West Virginia is transitioning Monday to the second phase of reopening some aspects of the economy. That includes hair dressers and barbershops by appointment, small businesses under 10 employees and restaurants for outdoor dining and takeout.
But the counties still designated as hotspots are subject to greater restrictions.
Those restrictions include limiting gatherings to no more than five people and directing all businesses to require employees to work from home as much as possible.
Kanawha-Charleston Health Officer Sherri Young issued a statement Sunday evening, saying the county would continue to treat the spread of the virus with caution even though the hotspot designation has been lifted.
“Kanawha County continues its aggressive battle against COVID-19. We have, during the past 52 days, developed an amazing collaboration with our city, county and state partners to fight the virus,” Young stated. “Any designation change won’t stop that.
“We took the lead in providing COVID-19 guidance to long-term care facilities and businesses. We implemented full-testing of nursing home residents and are now working to ensure day care workers have the opportunity to be tested for COVID. Our contact tracing continues KCHD’S effort to identify people who may have been infected with COVID and work to prevent the spread of the virus.”
In Wood County, where state officials were said to be considering the removal of the hotspot designation, commission President Blair Couch tweeted that there had been no such talks over the weekend.
“They have not been working with Wood over the past 48 hours, nor like the Governor stated in his press conference Friday,” Couch stated on Twitter.
People are texting and emailing me non-stop for intel. I have zero and can find zero from the @movhd because nobody has reached out to them or responded to them. Not Ideal @WVGovernor, we need communication please!
— David Blair Couch (@TeamCouch18) May 4, 2020
Justice announced last week that West Virginia would need to have three straight days of cumulative positive tests below 3 percent to ease restrictions.
But some other state leaders have asked how that standard would affect counties trending with a higher figure, or counties that border other states with continued virus spread.
Democrats in the House of Delegates sent a letter to the governor last week asking questions about the planned reopening. They included:
- “Will the state plan be adjusted for regional hotspots (such as the Eastern Panhandle, North Central West Virginia, the Kanawha Valley, etc.) The rate of infection is higher (and thus more dangerous) in certain areas than others. Are you planning on taking a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for each of the 55 counties?”
- What discretion, if any, are you giving to local health departments and county commissions to address ‘hot spot’ areas so that the citizens in those areas can remain safe?
Senator John Unger, D-Jefferson, has been concerned about the Eastern Panhandle’s proximity to viral outbreaks in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland. He also worries about the adequacy of testing capacity and reporting.
“We need to be using the data instead of our desires,” Unger said last week. “The data shows that there will be a resurgence, but the present opening up procedures seem to be driven with desire and putting people at risk.”