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Gov. Jim Justice eases some COVID-19 restrictions in West Virginia

Photo Provided West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice expresses encouragement during Wednesday’s COVID-19 pandemic update at the Capitol about a recent improvement in the state’s virus numbers.

CHARLESTON – Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday that COVID-19 regulations and rules for restaurants, bars, businesses, grocery stores, and schools will be eased due to plummeting coronavirus cases and increased vaccinations.

Justice said he was issuing a series of executive orders Friday to help businesses increase capacity as safely as possible with continued social distancing and mask-wearing. The executive orders go into effect at midnight.

“That will help them and take just a little bit more of the burden off their backs,” Justice said. “I believe in the next few weeks to 100 percent.”

Justice said the capacity limit for restaurants and bars will raise from 50 percent of capacity to 75 percent of capacity. Restaurants and bars must have physical seating available for patrons, with no standing room allowed. Live indoor music can resume, though vocals and wind instruments are not allowed.

Businesses can increase occupancy limits from two people per 1,000 square feet to four people per 1,000 square feet, while grocery stores can increase from three people per 1,000 square feet to six people per 1,000 square feet. And outdoor gathering limits will be raised from no more than 25 people to a maximum of 75 people.

“I am doubling the limitations in our retail and grocery stores,” Justice said. “We know there is a very low risk of spread in these businesses as long as we wear our face masks.”

Justice stressed that these easing of rules will be reversed should state and local health officials encounter spikes of coronavirus cases. Executive orders requiring face masks in indoor public places and rules requiring social distancing remain in effect.

“We will reinstate additional restrictions back if in fact we get into the situation where we have another surge,” Justice said.

Active COVID-19 cases went below 10,000 for the first time since Nov. 14 after peaking at more than 29,000 active cases Jan. 10. Since West Virginia began its COVID-19 vaccination efforts Dec. 14, Justice said deaths decreased by 72 percent over the last six weeks. Hospitalizations are also at their lowest levels since November.

Turning to education, Justice said he would call on the West Virginia Board of Education to make five-day in-person education mandatory for kindergarten through grade 8.

Currently, pre-K through middle schools can go to school up to four days per week for in-person regardless of the color on the Department of Health and Human Resources County Alert System map showing infection rates and percent of positivity in counties. They can also move to hybrid-blended models that allow for schools to be open at least two days per week. High Schools can switch to remote learning when counties are red on the County Alert System map.

Justice also said he was working with the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to create occupational guidelines for winter sports.

“I have asked them to work with all county school boards to ensure they have occupancy rules or attendance limitations to meet the social distancing requirements and other guidelines,” Justice said. “This is for people who are going to come to the games.”

Winter sports regulated by the WVSSAC start Monday, March 1.

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