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At Friday’s COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Jim Justice began to sketch out plans for reopening West Virginia as the pandemic passes its peak, including possibly reopening restaurants in the next seven to 14 days.

Justice said that will be among the “baby steps” the state will take to reopen businesses ordered closed during the pandemic.

“As we go forward, we’re not going to run and cannonball into the middle of the pool, and then awaken to the fact the pool didn’t have any water in it,” the governor said.

Justice said he will begin rolling out details next week for the process to gradually reopen certain businesses, but said his “80,000-foot view” for reopening dine-in restaurants is likely to include:

  • Limiting seating to no more than 50% of total restaurant capacity.
  • Limiting the number of guests at each table.
  • Requiring spacing for bar seating.
  • Employing enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
  • Requiring masks and daily temperature checks for employees.
  • Requiring use of disposable menus and utensils, and requiring beverages to be served in bottles or cans, not poured into glasses.

Justice said the key to reopening will be making sure restaurants have enough personal protection equipment and cleaning and disinfecting supplies to operate safely, supplies that he said Friday restaurant owners told him they do not currently have.

“That is not weeks and weeks away, but it is surely a significant number of days away,” he said of reopening dine-in restaurants.

Justice ordered dine-in restaurants closed on March 17, but the executive order allowed carryout, drive-thru and delivery services to continue.

The governor, who previously announced that hospitals and health care facilities will be able to resume elective surgeries and other procedures as early as next week, said his administration will coordinate reopening day care centers concurrently, to provide child care for health care workers who will be coming off furlough.

Also Friday, Justice elaborated on comments made during the Thursday briefing, when he discouraged voters to vote absentee by mail in the June 9 primary election.

“We don’t want to go by absentee,” the governor said. “All of us know — all of us — the level of potential corruption from purely absentee is rampant.”

Asked Friday if he could identify specific instances of fraud or potential fraud involving absentee voting by mail, Justice said, “I don’t have specifics. All I have is a whole lot of information that people have given me from the standpoint of nightmares that can happen, and the bad things that can happen.”

Justice also called in-person voting at the polls the “best and fairest way” to vote.

Former secretary of state and current candidate for the office Natalie Tennant on Thursday chastised Justice for making allegations of vote-by-mail fraud.

“It’s a disservice to voters and county clerks,” Tennant said, “since thousands of ballots are being mailed tomorrow.”

On Friday, Republican legislative leaders and state GOP Chairwoman Melody Potter issued statements objecting to calls to conduct the June 9 election entirely by mail.

Following the April 7 Wisconsin primary, multiple voters reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. State Republican legislators there went to court to overturn an order from Gov. Tony Evers to postpone the election.

Reach Phil Kabler at, 304-348-1220

or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.