With active COVID-19 cases increasing statewide, and spiking in Monongalia County, Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday that he is pulling back on some parts of his plan to reopen the state.
Statewide, that includes restricting fairs, festivals, outdoor concerts, and other gatherings to no more than 25 people, along with ordering a 10-day closure of bars in Monongalia County.
“You talk about a hot spot, this is a hot spot,” Justice said of Monongalia County, home of Morgantown and West Virginia University, where there are 340 active COVID-19 cases — by far the highest in the state.
Statewide, the number of new COVID-19 cases increased by 377 over the weekend, as transmission and infection rates have shot up in July.
“It’s no fun to close things, and make mandatory masks, and somewhat divide us,” Justice said of rolling back some aspects of his “West Virginia Strong — The Comeback” reopening plan. Last Monday, Justice issued an executive order requiring the wearing of face coverings in indoor public spaces as the state experiences an upturn in new COVID-19 cases.
Justice again Monday implored West Virginians to comply with mask wearing and social distancing to avoid the fate of states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona that have seen massive spikes in COVID-19 cases in recent days.
“This is not playtime stuff. This is not a time to be macho, to stand up and say, ‘I don’t have to do this,’” he said.
Justice issued an executive order closing bars in Monongalia County for 10 days, beginning at midnight Tuesday. He said that restaurants that serve alcohol with meals may remain open.
In making the announcement, Justice displayed a chart from the Texas Medical Association ranking risk factors for COVID-19 exposure on a scale from 1 (low risk) to 9 (very high risk), with going to a bar being level 9, the highest risk factor.
Justice also pulled back previous orders allowing fairs, festivals and outdoor concerts to resume, limiting those and other gatherings to a maximum of 25 people.
Organizers of multiple fairs, festivals and outdoor events statewide have previously announced cancellations of those events through the fall.
Justice said the 25-person limit will not apply to church services and other religious services. However, he chided Covenant Church in Fairmont, which hosted services by a national televangelist over the weekend, with photographs on social media showing a crowded chapel with no one wearing masks or social distancing.
“There’s no one that I can see anywhere in the congregation that’s got a mask on,” Justice said. “There’s no [empty] pews in between. We’re just asking for it.”
Also Wednesday, Justice:
- Said he is not aware of any pushback regarding his mandatory face covering order, saying he estimates that 90% of West Virginians approve of the mandate.
- Reiterated that he will not be pressured by President Donald Trump to reopen public schools. Justice has already pushed back the tentative first day of school to Sept. 8, despite Trump’s calls for schools to reopen as scheduled this fall.
“I get accused of making these updates on COVID have political ramifications because I’ve said positive things about our president, and I do think he’s done a great job,” Justice said, adding, “I will not be pressured by our president or anyone with regard to putting our kids back in school.”
Justice said delaying the start of school to Sept. 8 was a matter of buying more time to implement COVID-19 measures, but said, “There’s no way we could go back to school today.”
- Reminded unemployed West Virginians that they will be eligible for a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits when their current benefits expire.