There no longer are any capacity limits in place for West Virginia bars, restaurants, gyms, retail centers or museums, Gov. Jim Justice announced during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing.
Justice said he rescinded the limits, which had been implemented to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in public places, as West Virginia’s virus case load continues to fall and as vaccination rates increase.
As of Friday, there were 132,964 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in West Virginia, 6,144 of which were active, and 2,318 associated deaths, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources. Nearly 30% of residents in the state have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The announcement lifting the capacity limits did not include a plan to prioritize vaccinations for service workers staffing such establishments. It also did not offer details regarding what, if anything, would prompt the government to revisit restrictions.
“There are, absolutely, points that would make us put the restrictions back on, and I hope and pray they do not come,” the governor said. “I don’t know specifically what those points would be, but our medical experts are watching this around the clock. It’d be really nice if this thing just slowly moved its way out of our lives. We’re doing the very best we can hope to do here.”
In addition to lifting restrictions on businesses, Justice announced that public gatherings are now capped at 100 people and travel sports teams may compete statewide, unless a county is designated “red” on the state’s COVID-19 alert map.
Last summer, as West Virginia began to reopen from COVID-19 closures put in place weeks before, Justice said openings would halt and be reversed if the state surpassed a 3% daily positivity rate. That threshold was quickly disregarded, though, as experts said it did not incentivize COVID-19 testing, which, at the time, was the state’s top strategy to keep the virus in control.
At Friday’s briefing, Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s coronavirus czar, said he supports the governor’s decision to end capacity limits.
“We are prioritizing the health, well-being and the lives of the people in this state,” Marsh said. “I am 100% comfortable [with Justice’s announcement] and his touch with this.”
Marsh said there is little evidence of COVID-19 outbreaks or infections linked to public places such as bars and restaurants.
While COVID-19 cases are dropping across the United States, health experts have warned about moving too quickly in repealing pandemic restrictions, even as vaccines become more and more available.
Justice said he is aware of such warnings and believes lifting the capacity limits is an appropriate way to strike a balance between the threat and the improvements being made in the state regarding the virus.
“It’s my responsibility to lead us in the right path and be as cautious as I can be while still trying in every way for us to live with this terrible killer and get us back to as much normalcy as we can possibly get to,” the governor said.