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Gov. Justice Eases Restrictions

Gov. Jim Justice holds up his new safer-at-home plan to ease restrictions put in place by executive order March 23.

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday that the executive order requiring West Virginians to stay home except for essential work, medical care or going for food and supplies would be replaced Monday with a new “safer-at-home” plan relaxing some of those requirements.

“On Monday, May 4th, I will officially lift the stay-at-home order and replace it with a new safer-at-home order,” Justice said. “Show me how great you are, West Virginia, in every way. This disease is here today, and we have to figure out a way to live with it until there is a medicine that can take it out of our lives.”

Under the new safer-at-home plan, people will still be strongly encouraged to stay at home unless performing essential activities, but it will no longer be mandated. Seniors and those in the high-risk categories that are more susceptible to the coronavirus are still strongly encouraged to stay home as much as possible.

Essential businesses or businesses allowed to reopen as part of the governor’s comeback plan would still operate. Gatherings larger than 25 people would be prohibited still, though prohibitions on smaller groups would be lifted. The new safer-at-home guidelines will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Justice signed an executive order March 23 requiring all state residents to stay at home except for groceries and supplies, travel to jobs considered essential, medical treatment or for outdoor activities. Groups larger than 10 were also prohibited.

In some counties where there was substantial community spread of COVID-19, those orders were tightened to prohibit groups larger than five. Justice said further guidance would be released for the 11 counties still under tighter stay-home restrictions.

Last week, Justice unveiled his plan to re-open the state’s economy over the next six weeks, titled “West Virginia Strong: The Comeback.” The first week of that plan kicked off earlier this week with hospitals being allowed to restart elective medical procedures with approval from the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Starting Thursday, outpatient health care providers could open, such as primary care, dentists, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and mental health professionals and other health care providers regulated by Chapter 30 of state code. Starting Monday, small businesses with less than 10 employees, outdoor dining, churches and houses of worship, hair and nail salons, barbers and dog groomers can reopen.

Justice said additional businesses will be given the green light to reopen weekly starting May 11, 18, and 25 with a one-week notice. State officials have already given the thumbs up for horse racetracks at casinos to reopen starting May 11, though the races won’t be open to spectators.

All of those businesses and entities would be required to maintain social distancing and maintain proper sanitation. In some cases, the state is providing guidance on how to safely reopen while state licensing and occupational boards also are providing guidance.

“Again, we’re allowing people to reopen, but we’re not requiring people to reopen,” Justice said. “We want you to use your best judgment, follow the advice of your boards or whomever it may be, but as we reopen we will want to reopen as safely as we can possibly be,” Justice said.

Justice and state health officials are using several criteria to monitor trends in coronavirus cases to determine if the re-opening effort needs to pause or be reversed, including the cumulative percentage of positive cases compared to total tests, which sits at 2.5 percent as of Thursday. If the percentage rises to 3 percent or more, the reopening process would likely pause.

Some, including Democratic members of the House of Delegates, have asked why the state would use cumulative tests instead of recent test numbers. Justice said that looking at the percentage over a five-day period between April 25 and April 29, the percentage dropped from 1.5 percent to 1.3 percent – lower than the cumulative test percentage.

“Even though we’re going to move forward on the cumulative number, we are absolutely tracking each day and as we track each day, then our health experts and our people…will know if we have a problem. As we know we have a problem, then we run to the fire. We don’t do it shooting from the hip. We do it scientifically and mathematically and absolutely with our experts right behind us.”

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