The number of people allowed to attend casual social gatherings in West Virginia has been raised from 25 to 100, Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday during his daily COVID-19 briefing.
The easing of the restriction went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
Also Thursday, Justice said fairs and festivals in the state may resume, with strict guidelines, starting July 1. Those guidelines, to be released Friday, could be revisited later, depending on the threat of COVID-19, Justice said.
“Our medical experts have advised me this is a safe decision, and we can go forward with this,” Justice said. “We’ll continue to watch our numbers, just like we do every day, to make sure that we keep you as safe as we possibly can while enabling you to go on about your life in a way as close to normal as we possibly can.”
According to numbers released by the state Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday, 2,102 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in West Virginia, out of 106,535 results received. The DHHR, also on Thursday, reported the 79th death in the state, a 62-year-old man in Roane County.
Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, said anyone planning to attend a large gathering or a fair or festival should continue to wear face masks and social distance, to limit the spread of COVID-19 in crowds.
With marches and protests planned across the state in the wake of recent violence against African Americans — including the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer — Justice urged anyone attending the protests to practice social distancing for their own safety, as well as the safety of anyone in the crowd. A large protest is scheduled Sunday at the state Capitol in Charleston.
“No matter how big the crowd is, if they will social distance themselves, if they will just do that, I absolutely welcome their voice being heard,” Justice said. “We want people to be able to show their views. And free speech is one of our rights that we have that is the most precious of all.”