Gyms and whitewater rafting get OK to resume, but Justice says clamor was not the reason

Gov. Jim Justice announced some stragglers can get on board his reopening plan right away and also defended how those decisions are made.

The governor said gyms may open this coming Monday.

“We’ve got an awful lot of calls requesting that our health clubs and our gyms be allowed to open up,” Justice said during a Thursday briefing about coronavirus response.

He said some line-blurring occurred when wellness centers, which include rehabilitation or other physical activities under medical supervision, were allowed to reopen this week

The guidelines “allow for the opening of such facilities that offer exercise therapy, physical therapy, post-operative therapy, and/or rehabilitative therapy programs to individuals.

“Further, this guidance is not intended to and shall not apply to gyms and recreational facilities generally, which remain closed as of this date.”

But Justice, in recent days, said some gyms connected to exercise therapy facilities went ahead and reopened.

“We had some people push the envelope beyond what our intent was,” he said.

So the response, upon consultation with state medical advisors, was to open exercise facilities too.

“We feel now we’re ready to open our gymnasiums,” Justice said.

Justice also announced the go-ahead for whitewater rafting to resume next Thursday under newly-established conditions. Those include limiting numbers of people on rafts and buses.

Whitewater rafting was a late add to some other activities, such as off-roading on Hatfield McCoy Trails, that are allowed to resume just prior to Memorial Day Weekend.

“I’m happy to say we’re going to reopen. We’re going to have a great whitewater season,” Justice said.

The prior day, Justice announced that tanning beds would get the go-ahead to reopen after his office received lots of calls.

“I never dreamed in all my life that we’d gotten all these calls in regard to the tanning businesses or tanning beds, so I am announcing today that our medical experts believe we’re good to go,” Justice said Wednesday.

So tanning bed facilities may resume operations May 21.

During the news briefing, The Associated Press asked Justice if decisions are being made based on the volume of phone calls.

Justice responded, “That is absolutely, 180 degrees wrong. I am not going to do that.”

“At the end of the day,” the governor said, “we’re going to make our decision smart with a ton of prayer, with absolutely the guidance of our medical community and medical experts.”

Justice continued, “There’s no chance your governor is going to do something to enhance something from the standpoint of political pressure.”

He did say, “I do think we should absolutely listen.”

Justice was also asked a related question about how equal treatment under the guidelines is addressed by the administration. In other words, what if some comply and others divert by, for example, opening early.

The governor said he had just had a conversation in the Governor’s Mansion about that issue.

“There are surely people who — I don’t want to say cheating — but they’re pushing the envelope,” he said.

“I am surely not going to just turn away and act like I don’t see.”

And another question asked the governor how rules are made fair over different sectors of the economy. For example, how are big box retailers on equal economic footing with restaurants that are allowed to open at 50 percent capacity?

Justice said the administration tries to treat businesses as equally as possible, but sometimes other factors apply such as the size of a building or air flow.

“We want to be able to have the recirculation of air in a facility that is adequate,” he said.

And Justice was also asked about differing views between businesses that want to call back employees who have been working from home — and workers who might not yet believe it is safe to do so.

The governor’s guidelines urge businesses to allow telecommuting whenever possible.

But Justice said he cannot force businesses to allow their employees to continue telecommuting. His focus was on whether an order would be appropriate, and he did not say that his advice would be to allow working from off site.

“Forcing businesses to have people stay at home when the business owner might think that’s not in the best interest of his business, we can’t do that,” he said.

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