Mask mandates, social distancing requirements continue in retail spaces now at full capacity

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Even though they’re now permitted to operate at 100 percent capacity, mask and social distancing regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 remain in effect at West Virginia’s retail, grocery and other stores.

Bridget Lambert

“We’re optimistic that, as more vaccine is available in our state and more West Virginians are vaccinated, that the confidence level for shoppers will return,” said Bridget Lambert, president of the West Virginia Retailers Association.

On Monday morning, Lambert said a quick survey of some of her organization’s members found no large upticks in numbers of customers in the first days under revised restrictions from Gov. Jim Justice.

It was last Friday when Gov. Justice lifted previous capacity limitations for small businesses, retail stores and grocery stores, but said all affected businesses were to continue to follow guidelines for usage of facial coverings and social distancing.

That was also the case for gyms, fitness centers and museums.

In restaurants and bars, 100 percent capacity applied to available seating in spaces where social distancing could be maintained “between groups that arrive and sit together.”

People standing in groups were not allowed at bars and restaurants and masks were required when people were not actively eating or drinking.

The ongoing statewide indoor face covering requirement, last updated in November, mandates that face coverings be worn at all times in all public indoor places with limited exceptions.

It does not apply to children under the age of nine or anyone who has trouble breathing or who is otherwise unable to to remove the mask without assistance.

On the same day Gov. Justice announced changes to restrictions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study finding that mask mandates and restrictions for on-premises dining at restaurants “can help limit community transmission of COVID-19.”

Reduced transmission would cut coronavirus case and death growth rates, according to the CDC.

“With the emergence of more transmissible COVID-19 variants, community mitigation measures are increasingly important as part of a larger strategy to decrease exposure to and reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” the study concluded.

On Monday morning, reporting from the state Department of Health and Human Resources put West Virginia’s daily coronavirus infection rate at 3.41 percent.

Virus hospitalizations statewide, at 178, were the lowest they had been since the middle of October.

Dr. Clay Marsh
Dr. Clay Marsh

Doctor Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean of health sciences at West Virginia University and a leader in the state coronavirus response, said state officials were monitoring the numbers.

“The governor decided, I think wisely, to try to reduce some of the restrictions as we monitor very closely, but maintain the appropriate mitigation measures, as way to try to get family-owned businesses going and help the economy,” Dr. Marsh said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“If we see things change, we will change too.”

Lambert said many retail workers were included with the general population in ongoing vaccinations determined by age.

The cutoff age was lowered to age 50 last week. People with certain health conditions were also eligible.

“Our workers have been on the front lines since day one and we certainly hope that each and every one of them that become eligible for a vaccine is taking advantage of that opportunity,” she said.

In some cases, Lambert said retailers were offering vaccination incentives to employees.

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