In West Virginia’s most aggressive response to the coronavirus pandemic to date, Gov. Jim Justice issued an executive order, effective Tuesday evening, directing people to stay at home and mandating closure of all non-essential businesses and operations.
“Today, I am moving forward right now with a stay-home order that will go in place immediately,” Justice said in a Monday afternoon news conference. “This order also temporarily shuts down all non-essential businesses.”
Effective at 8 p.m. Tuesday, the order stipulates that people only are to leave home to perform essential activities or work at essential businesses or services.
Essential activities include:
- Obtaining food, medicine or similar goods.
- Obtaining non-elective medical care.
- Going to or from work, if employed by an essential business or operation.
- Going to or from places of worship.
- Participating in outdoor activities, provided policies for social distancing are applied.
Justice said he had planned to announce only the closure of nonessential businesses but decided to impose the broader restrictions after seeing neighboring states do so and after learning of the first case of community spread of the virus, to a nursing home resident.
The initial positive cases of COVID-19 all involved people becoming infected while traveling out-of-state.
“You’ve had additional states that could flood us with visitors, which is toxic in every way,” Justice said.
Without the order, Justice said, residents of neighboring states effectively closed by the virus would travel to West Virginia.
“This is the right move at the right time,” state Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said of the executive order. “Personally, I was hoping it would be down the road a week or two weeks.”
Public Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp said the first reported community spread case of COVID-19 was a key moment demanding tougher restrictions to try to slow the spread of the virus.
“It is clearly anxiety producing, and it makes all of us nervous,” she said of the stay-at-home order.
The order broadly defines essential businesses and services that can remain open. Those include:
- Grocery stores and pharmacies.
- Health care, public health and health insurance providers.
- Food, beverage and agricultural production and distribution, including restaurant carry-out, delivery and drive-thru services.
- Essential government functions, including first-responders, law enforcement, corrections officers and child protective services workers, among others.
- Human service organizations and child care facilities and providers.
- Essential infrastructure, including construction, public utilities, distribution centers, refineries, trash collection, communications and telecommunications, among others.
- Manufacturers and distributors of critical products.
- Public, private and commercial transportation and travel services, including gas stations.
- Financial and insurance institutions, including banks.
- Hardware and supply stores.
- Critical trades, including plumbers, electricians and cleaning and janitorial services.
- Shipping, delivery and postal services.
- Religious entities.
- Educational institutions, for provision of essential services, including preparation and delivery of food for schoolchildren to facilitate distance learning and maintain critical research.
- Laundry services, including laundromats.
- Suppliers to essential businesses.
- Residential care facilities and home-based care services, including nursing homes.
- Professional services.
- News media.
- Hotels and motels.
- Funeral service providers.
- Coal mining and coal-fired power plants, with coal operator Justice noting, “From the standpoint of coal miners, they’re absolutely essential in my book.”
All businesses not identified as essential in the executive order are to shut down Tuesday, although those businesses may continue to employ skeleton staffs to maintain inventory and physical plants, provide security and process employee payroll and benefits.
The only businesses specifically ordered closed under the order include all places of public amusement, amusement parks, carnivals, zoos, museums, fairs, pool halls, bingo halls, malls (with certain exceptions), children’s play centers, playgrounds, bowling alleys, movie and other theaters, concert and music halls, adult entertainment venues, racetracks and social clubs.
Many of those venues already had closed, canceled or rescheduled performances or events.
The order gives state and local law enforcement agencies enforcement power, but state National Guard Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said Monday he does not envision a police state.
“We have enough faith in the people of West Virginia to do the things we need to do,” he said, saying it won’t be necessary to put guardsmen on the streets to enforce the order.
Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University, said the intent of the order is simple: to minimize interaction among people.
“If we do this effectively, this will slow down the spread of the virus dramatically,” he said.
Marsh has said that if 75% of West Virginians practice social distancing, the spread of COVID-19 would be reduced from a tsunami to a river, and down to a stream if 90% participate.
Many expected Justice to issue the stay-at-home order during a statewide address Saturday evening, when the governor warned West Virginians that if they did not employ social distancing directives effectively, the state could find itself as hard-hit as New York.
America’s fourth-most populous state, New York has more than 20,000 coronavirus cases compared to 16 in sparsely populated West Virginia.
On Monday, Justice dismissed criticism of his Saturday address.
“We have absolutely been proactive in every way, shape, form and fashion. We have been absolutely transparent beyond belief,” he said.
“We have absolutely done and pushed the right buttons at the right time, but it’s still not enough. This disease is really serious stuff,” Justice added.
He acknowledged the harsh economic impact of COVID-19, noting that more than 17,000 unemployment claims were filed last week, a number he said could ramp up this week.
“This is, no question, materially affecting our budget,” Justice said, adding he is hopeful a massive $1.8 trillion stimulus package being debated in Congress will bring relief.
“The economy will be OK. Out of kilter for a period of time? No question,” he said, adding that if the state extends its income tax filing deadline to July 15 to correspond with the federal extension, it will create a “real upside down” funding situation that would require tapping into state Rainy Day reserve funds during the three-month delay in receiving tax payments.