CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As neighboring states to West Virginia shut down nearly all businesses from restaurants to clothing stores due to the COVID-19 outbreak pandemic, the Mountain State remains open for business.
Gov. Jim Justice said during a press briefing on Monday afternoon that it’s not the time, yet, to close things such as restaurants around the state.
This comes after he declared a state of emergency for all 55 counties in the state during that brief and President Donald Trump’s administration said the public should avoid gatherings larger than 10 people.
“Not yet. I don’t think any of our people yet think that’s necessary to do,” Justice said of closing restaurants and bars.
He later encouraged West Virginians to go out if they want to.
“Go to the grocery stores. For crying out loud, go to the grocery stores. If you want to go to Bob Evans and eat, go to Bob Evans and eat,” he said.
On Sunday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered that all bars and restaurants to close dine-in options until further notice due to the outbreak as the state had 50 positive cases as of Monday afternoon. Meanwhile Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a statewide shutdown on Monday as the state battles at least 76 confirmed cases.
In the briefing on Monday, Justice announced that West Virginia still has yet to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 despite 84 tests.
Dickinson Gould, the President of Buzz Food Service in Charleston told MetroNews that he anticipates the same actions with restaurants to occur in West Virginia sooner rather than later.
“I guess the good news is there is that temporary relief for our local restaurants,” Gould said. “But I’ll be honest, it’s only a matter of time. I think we will eventually have positive tests and when that happens I think we will probably be closing restaurants and bars in a similar fashion.”
In the meantime, Gould and other partners with Buzz launched a public outreach campaign “Distance Socially, Eat Locally.”
“You can still support locally-owned restaurants by ordering carryout meals, tipping to be helpful to the service and delivery team,” Gould said.
“Just because you are worried about the social distance and gathering in crowds, doesn’t mean you can’t support locally-owned restaurants.”
Gould said some of this also falls on the restaurants in making adjustments for the customers. He said some strategies include embracing carry-out, creating curbside service and remote credit card service.
“Put the waitstaff in latex gloves, put the bar staff in latex gloves just like you see in the kitchen,” Gould said of the restaurants with dine-in options. “Go to extra efforts to sanitize tables, chairs, menus, bathrooms, anything that people are touching.”
Dr. Sherri Young, the Chief Health Officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department appeared on 580-LIVE on 580-WCHS in Charleston Monday morning and encouraged supporting local business still, but to be smart.
“While we are asking people to practice social distancing that doesn’t mean they can’t get takeout or they can’t go to a restaurant and practice social distancing in those ways,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to get food, that is not the recommendation we are making.”
But for now, Gould said restaurants and bars remain playing the waiting game like the rest of the country. He said it’s different from the water crisis in Kanawha County in 2014 that shutdown businesses for a few weeks because there is no expected return date with the outbreak.
“We have no idea how long this is going to go on,” he said. “We have no idea where we stand in our battle against the virus at any given moment.
“So there’s an enormous amount of uncertainty. I know that local restaurants and every local business are worried about their employees and their customers.”