Gov. Jim Justice announced tightened restrictions because of the spread of coronavirus, including a 10-day closure of bars in hotspot Monongalia County and limiting crowd sizes statewide to 25 people or fewer.
And the governor called an end to fairs and festivals — unless any happen to exist with fewer than 25 people.
Justice said the restrictions were in response to increasingly worrisome coronavirus numbers, particularly in Monongalia County.
Coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh said the steps are necessary to ensure the spread of the virus is slowed.
“Sometimes we’ve got to slow down and stop and maybe take a step backwards as we look at those precise counties and areas of West Virginia that are being affected differently,” Marsh said today.
“We see Mon County as that county right now.”
Monongalia County reported 256 positive cases from July 6 to 12.
That’s about half of its 526 overall confirmed cases.
Those who are testing positive in the county have been young.
Fifty percent of the positive cases there have been between 20 to 29 years old, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
“In Mon County, we’ve got to do something. They’re a real hot spot,” Justice said.
The bar closure would last for 10 days, he said. West Virginia University students are scheduled to start fall classes August 19, although residence halls open August 8.
With the bar shutdown, he said, “I am hopeful we’ll begin to see a correction in the numbers.”
West Virginia numbers
Although Monongalia County has been a particular worry, Justice and other state leaders described concern with numbers across West Virginia.
West Virginia has confirmed 4,259 cases — with 1,338 of those considered active.
West Virginia’s daily positive percentage was at 3.13 percent today and the cumulative positive percent was 2.05 percent, both higher than just late June.
The daily hospitalizations were at 63, more than the previous high at the beginning of May. The number of people in intensive care units was 22, tying the previous high.
West Virginia’s virus reproduction rate — representing the rate of spread — was 1.36, second highest in the nation. If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading.
Justice said those numbers need to be under control.
“If things turn south on us in a great big way, our rural hospitals would struggle. We would lose people after people after people,” he said.
Justice urged people to abide by his earlier order requiring face coverings, although he said he does not see the need so far to apply penalties to individuals who don’t comply.
“This is the only bullet we’ve got,” he said, holding up a disposable mask.
But he expressed belief that the mask order is already yielding results.
“I really believe overwhelmingly we have made unbelievable progress on people wearing masks today versus when I was saying ‘come on, come on’ and I was pleading with them,” he said.
The governor said the mask order also applies to worship services, although he said the crowd limit of 25 does not apply.
“Absolutely it is mandatory that you wear a mask at church, and it is absolutely the smart thing to do.”
He held up printed-out images of a Fairmont church that, he said, recently had a crowded gathering with no masks or social distancing.
If such gatherings continue, the governor said, “We’re just asking for it.”
“People need to understand the danger they are exposing themselves and all kinds of people beyond that setting,” he later said, alluding to community spread. “If there’s any place on the planet we should be loving our neighbors, it’s there.”
Fairs and festivals
On fairs and festivals, Justice said they could continue only if they can somehow get by with fewer than 25 people gathered.
“If you have a fair or festival where you can socially distance 25 people or everything we’re fine,” he said.
“But for the most part if you’ve got a fair or festival in West Virginia, we’re done for now.”
He said the order also applies to outdoor concerts.
“This does not apply to a Little League. It does not apply to an outdoor pool” if you can social distance, he said.
Officials with the Governor’s Office later also clarified: “Weddings and receptions are classified as ‘essential services’ and do not fall under the public gathering limit.”
Justice announced on Friday a delay of the start of school until Sept. 8.
The Trump Administration, including the president, has pushed for schools across the country to fully open in the fall.
But Justice, A Republican who often cites his close personal relationship with President Trump, said he won’t be pressured into sending students back if the state’s virus numbers don’t justify it.
“I get accused of making this update on covid having political ramifications because I’ve said positive things about our president. But, you know, I will not be pressured by our president or anyone with regards to putting our kids back in school,” he said.
Justice said he hopes students can return to classrooms in the fall.
But “today, I couldn’t put us back in school,” he said.
Justice: low odds of broader shutdown
The governor, asked to speculate whether West Virginia might have to shut down broad sections of its economy again, said he doubts it.
“We, statewide, are in a good spot,” he said, comparing West Virginia favorably to states like Florida or Texas.
But, he said, “It can get really bad, and I’m trying to prevent that from happening to us.”