Gov. Jim Justice announced measures meant to keep people from coronavirus hotspots from congregating in West Virginia, which has a relatively low case rate.
Justice announced an executive order for people who have traveled to West Virginia from hot spots such as New York, Connecticut, Louisiana, Italy or China to quarantine for 14 days if they travel to the state.
He also announced state parks campgrounds will be closed, a decision driven by reports of crowds of people from out-of-state taking up residence.
“All of this is driven primarily from the standpoint of others coming across our borders,” Justice said during a Monday afternoon news briefing. “And we don’t want ’em to come.
“Now we in West Virginia want to embrace all and have people come from all walks of life when this is over — but right now, we don’t want you to come. And we want you to hear us: We don’t want you to come across our borders.”
Justice said he would ask the State Police to monitor the situation.
The governor noted the exception of people commuting back-and-forth across state lines for essential work duties.
“Other than that,” Justice said, “we don’t want people coming across our state lines.”
President Trump two days ago floated a quarantine on New York, and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut to stop travel from those areas to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Instead, the Centers for Disease Control published a statement urging residents of those three states to “refrain” from all non-essential domestic travel for 14 days.
Rhode Island was having police pull over drivers with New York license plates and then broadened the practice to include vehicles from all other states.
Responding to questions from reporters, Justice said he is worried about people from those areas — or others hard-hit by the virus — coming to West Virginia.
“We’re talking about people trying to escape a very, very toxic area and come to West Virginia to enjoy all our goodness,” the governor said.
Brian Abraham, general counsel for the Governor’s Office, said the executive order is not aimed at interstate commerce. He said it makes allowances for people commuting for essential services, military duties and healthcare.
“So we don’t anticipate there be any interference with those activities,” Abraham said.
“Most of the contact here would be when someone is coming into the state from out-of-state; they take up some kind of residence or they’re at a location where the police have been made aware that they’re there and they remain there and they’re not abiding by the quarantine — then we would expect law enforcement to make contact with them and remind them of the quarantine.”
The City of Huntington has also said it will use police to remind people of the governor’s earlier stay-home order. Violations might include large social gatherings.
“We simply are not going to tolerate blatant disregard for the order,” Huntington Mayor Steve Williams stated today.
“Doing so creates a public health hazard and not only places our community at risk, but it places at risk all of our health care professionals and first responders.”
West Virginia has established several precautions for coronavirus, including a stay-home order. Surrounding states like Virginia and Maryland issued their own stay-home orders on Monday as the virus continued to spread.
Justice and Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s newly-named coronavirus czar, said West Virginia’s emphasis on social distancing is slowing the spread.
West Virginia has 124 total positive cases and 2,984 negative tests — and one death of an 88-year-old Marion County woman — as of Sunday night.
Marsh has been measuring the total tests divided by the number of positives to determine rate of spread. That has been about 4 percent for several days in a row.
“Really and truly, if we can keep doing that we’ll be the model,” Justice said.
But he noted that West Virginia must be extra cautious because of its high average age and prevalence of diabetes and heart and lung disease.
“This monster can turn on us and turn on us in a bad way. And the reason the monster can turn on us is just this — we’re an elderly state,” he said.
“We’re trending the right way. Please just stay the course.”
Trump on Sunday extended the guidelines for social distancing to at least the end of April.
That is just days from West Virginia’s scheduled primary election on May 12.
Asked about that, Justice said the election remains planned for that date with an emphasis on absentee ballots. But, he allowed, “We’re considering all options at this time and we’ll let you know with the possibility of an extension.”