W.Va. Governor Issues Flurry Of Executive Orders Following Largest COVID Spike In State
After West Virginia broke its state record for daily coronavirus cases twice in one week, Gov. Jim Justice announced on Friday new rules for schools, sports, face masks and nursing home employees.
Justice said during a virtual press briefing that he’s expanding an executive order from July, now requiring that all individuals more than nine years old wear a face mask in enclosed, public spaces, even when social distancing is possible. All businesses must now post signs for customers, requiring masks before entry, and Justice said police officers can arrest patrons who don’t comply for obstruction of justice. Any establishment that fails to enforce the governor’s order risks closure.
“If you don't step up, business owners, and make it mandatory when people are entering your businesses, we’re going to end up having to take further steps,” Justice said. “Because we will not be able to slow this thing down and stop it. The next steps will have to be closure.”
The only exceptions to the mandate are people with “legitimate breathing problems,” according to Justice, or those who are actively eating and drinking.
When West Virginia first began responding to the pandemic in March, Justice issued a lengthy “Stay at Home” order, which closed in-person dining, restricted large gatherings and limited in-person access to non-essential medical services. Justice began rescinding this order in April, through his “Safer at Home” plan. Unlike governors from other states, such as Oregon and Virginia, Justice is not closing businesses or restricting large gatherings at this time.
Additionally, Justice ordered that all in-person classes for public and private schools be closed from Thanksgiving through Wednesday, Dec. 2, to allow time for coronavirus testing. The governor said this does not apply to remote and virtual classes.
All winter sports are postponed until Jan. 11 while fall sports are allowed to finish their season, according to another order from Justice, and all school band festivals for spring are canceled.
Justice was one of several governors to expand existing orders and issue new ones Friday, as cases locally and nationally take a turn for the worse. While the country reported more than 163,000 new daily cases of the coronavirus Friday, West Virginia recorded more than 740 the same day, and more than 880 on Wednesday — the state’s highest number of new daily coronavirus cases since March.
The governor said there were 78 outbreaks in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as of Friday. As a result, West Virginia employees working in these facilities are now required to be tested for the coronavirus twice every week, according to yet another executive order by Justice on Friday.
Justice and other state officials reminded West Virginians to take advantage of the free coronavirus testing throughout the state. He also encouraged West Virginians to remain vigilant as the nation inches closer to a potential vaccine. Pfizer on Monday announced its experimental COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90 percent effective.
“All of us are absolutely trying to do everything we can possibly do to keep life as close to normal,” Justice said. “We've got to make it to this vaccine, and we hope and pray the vaccine will be as successful as what is advertised.”
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported Friday morning more than 8,500 active cases of the coronavirus and 565 deaths.