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Gov. Justice Orders Shutdown of Non-Essential W.Va. Businesses

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice pounds the table at the conclusion of his press conference saying the state can beat the coronavirus challenge, Friday, March 13, 2020 at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Justice announced that all schools are to be closed by the end of the school day Friday. (Chris Dorst/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

CHARLESTON — With most of West Virginia’s surrounding states ordering non-essential businesses to close or ordering residents to shelter in place, Gov. Jim Justice said Monday that he would order residents to stay home and close non-essential businesses starting tonight due to the coronavirus.

“This disease is really serious stuff,” Justice said. “Please stay at home, please listen to our orders, and please in every way, shape, form, and fashion keep consulting your God above and every single one of us will get through this.”

Justice held a virtual briefing with reporters Monday from the Governor’s Reception Room at the State Capitol Building in Charleston.

Citing state code, Justice’s executive order requires all West Virginians to stay home starting at 8 p.m. tonight. Residents are allowed to leave their homes to obtain food, medicine, and supplies; obtain medical care and treatment; travel to work if the business is considered essential; go to or from a family member’s home; and engage in outdoor activity while abiding by health guidelines to maintain 6 feet of distance from others and avoiding groups of 10 or more.

“A stay-home order is not martial law,” Justice said. “It’s not going to be somebody going to lock you in your home. It’s not that we’re shutting down the state borders. It’s not that we’re closing any bridges or roads. We can do all this and shut down this terrible virus even more.”

Only essential businesses will be allowed to continue operations past 8 p.m. today unless a business already has employees working from home. Despite the limitations, the list of essential businesses in Justice’s executive order is broad.

“If your business or operation is not essential, then you’ll be temporarily closed,” Justice said.

Essential businesses include healthcare, public health, and health insurance; grocery stores and pharmacies; food/beverage manufacturing and agriculture; essential government functions (first-responders, emergency management); human services organizations and childcare facilities/providers; infrastructure and utilities; and coal mining and coal-fired electric generation.

Additional essential businesses include manufacturing, distribution, and supply chain for critical products; gas stations and travel-related businesses such as hotels; banks and financial institutions; hardware and supply stores; critical trades; mail, shipping, delivery, and pick-up services; religious entities; education institutions that provide distance learning or food preparation; laundry services; office supplies; home-based care; residential facilities and shelters; professional services, media outlets; and funeral services.

Justice’s executive order comes after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday that all non-essential businesses must close. These orders follow similar orders in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Ohio ordered all residents to shelter-in-place. Virginia has not issued any similar orders, though was expected to close schools for the rest of the semester Monday.

According to officials with the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the catalyst for Justice’s executive order was the first in-state person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus, or COVID-19. The transmission occurred at a nursing home in Morgantown.

“It really is this beginning to see transmission of spread in the community,” said Dr. Cathy Slemp, the state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health. “This is just a trigger point we have all been thinking about as a key moment to make sure we really are taking that next step.”

“It’s a different situation, as we’ve had many people from across state borders come in and out and we had a way of identifying … out-of-state border people,” Justice said. “This is the first case we’ve had of community transmission, so it is really significant.”

Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and dean of Health Sciences at West Virginia University, said the goal of state health officials is to limit the spread of COVID-19 in order to prevent a rush of seriously infected patients overrunning the limited number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds at hospitals across the state. With the first community transmission of the virus, Marsh said it was important to issue the executive order.

“We know from simulation models that it works best if people can voluntarily stay at home and stay away from each other,” said Marsh. “One reason why we did not recommend to the Governor to do this earlier was because we know as long as we have the opportunity, that approach will give us the best reduction of the tsunami wave. Once that doesn’t work anymore … that was when we all recommended to the Governor we need to take the next steps. Once it’s in the community, it can go quickly.”

According to DHHR, there are 16 positive cases of the coronavirus in West Virginia as of Sunday evening, with 464 total tests results in, 444 negative tests, and four tests pending. According to Johns Hopkins University, there are 41,708 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of Monday with 573 deaths. Worldwide, the number of confirmed cases is 372,563 with 16,381 deaths.

Justice said that besides the state DHHR lab in South Charleston, there are now 49 hospitals doing coronavirus tests and 19 communities doing community-based testing. A total of 1,500 people have been tested through these labs not counting the DHHR tests. The DHHR lab is also increasing its capacity to do more tests.

“We have absolutely been proactive in every way, shape, form, or fashion,” Justice said. “We’ve been transparent beyond belief … we have absolutely done and pushed the right buttons at the right time, but it’s still not enough.”

In a press release Monday, Republican and Democratic leaders of the West Virginia Legislature issued a joint statement. The letter was signed by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson; Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion; House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay; and House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison. The lawmakers said the Executive branch needs to continue to lead the response to coronavirus and said now wasn’t the time for political posturing or a special session.

“Your bipartisan legislative team will work together to advise the executive branch on actions related to responding to the virus,” the joint statement stated. “It is our belief that, during this immediate crisis, a special session is not yet necessary, but may be at a future date as the situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. We believe this is a time to utilize the emergency powers of government, in consultation with legislative leaders, to aggressively attack the problem.”

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