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Gov. Jim Justice continued Thursday to announce ad hoc reopenings of businesses and activities statewide, including bumping up the opening of gyms and fitness centers to May 18.

Justice had previously authorized fitness centers affiliated with health care providers that provide physical and occupational therapy to reopen on Monday, a decision he said drew questions and complaints from other gym and fitness center operators.

“We got an awful lot of calls questioning should our health clubs and gyms be allowed to open up,” said Justice, who said a number of non-medically affiliated gyms and health clubs “pushed the envelope” and reopened Monday without authorization.

Those included Snap Fitness center franchises co-owned by Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam.

Justice said Thursday that in order to alleviate confusion and any “unfairness,” he was authorizing all other gyms and fitness centers to reopen, with to-be-published guidelines and restrictions.

Similarly, during Tuesday’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Justice said that after receiving numerous calls, he was allowing tanning salons to reopen.

Also Thursday, Justice said he is authorizing whitewater rafting excursions to reopen on May 21, with restrictions including no more than six guests and a guide per raft, and restricting ridership on the bus that take rafters to and from the river.

That announcement comes two days after Justice said health care experts had serious concerns about whether it would be possible to practice social distancing on the rafts or the transport buses.

During Thursday’s briefing, Justice denied he was buckling to pressure from various businesses to move them up on the reopening plan.

“That is absolutely, 180 degrees wrong,” Justice said. “I’m not going to succumb to political pressure when I think, and I’m told by my medical experts … that it’s the wrong thing to do.”

Conversely, Justice said he is aware of nonessential businesses that have reopened without state authorization, and said the state will “move swiftly” to re-close businesses that resume without permission.

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

Also during Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • DHHR officials outlined a rapid response plan to address potential outbreaks of coronavirus infections in counties as more businesses open and activities resume.

If a county or counties break thresholds for new COVID-19 cases as tracked on seven-day rolling sums, those localities will be designated for high-alert status, Public Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp explained.

Action plans will then be developed for those areas, including stricter mitigation requirements, additional testing and contact tracing, and other resources.

  • Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar, re-emphasized that wearing face coverings or masks is an important part of the next phase of living successfully with the coronavirus.

“If you’re inside with other people, absolutely wear a facemask,” he said.

Justice on Tuesday said he encourages people to wear face coverings, but will not mandate it as many jurisdictions have done.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.