Charleston, W.Va. Declares State Of Emergency As Part Of Coronavirus Response

Mar 15, 2020

Updated Sunday, March 15, 2020 at 9:50 p.m. Check back here for the latest coverage on the coronavirus.

The city of Charleston, West Virginia, has declared a state of emergency as part of its response to the coronavirus. According to a news release, Mayor Amy Goodwin signed a proclamation Sunday that allows city officials to issue emergency policies and mobilize resources such as personnel, services and equipment. 

Charleston’s state of emergency was issued despite West Virginia reporting no confirmed cases of the virus. The proclamation was issued moments before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the suspension of gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.

However, testing in the state has been extremely limited. West Virginia health officials say 41 residents have been tested for the disease. As of Sunday at 9:50 p.m., 38 tests yielded negative results with three results still pending. Those numbers do not account for testing conducted by some hospitals or commercial laboratories. 

Goodwin said the threat of the coronavirus and its likely inevitable spread in West Virginia could force municipalities such as Charleston to enact lockdowns. She said the emergency declaration would allow her and other city officials to put a lockdown in place should it become necessary.

"I think that West Virginians need to plan and prepare for that to happen," Goodwin said by phone Sunday night. "[They need to] plan and prepare for social distancing for quite some time; to plan and prepare for this virus to wreak havoc in the state of West Virginia with our businesses and our lives for quite some time."

City officials say the state of emergency will remain in place until a similar proclamation is issued to rescind the measure. Goodwin said she would rather enact policies that keep residents safe than look back and wish she had done more. 

“Somebody yelled at me across the street the other day, they said, ‘Mayor, are we overreacting?’ And my response to them was ‘Boy, I hope so. But, unfortunately, I don't think so,’” Goodwin said Sunday night by phone. “As mayor, it's my responsibility. It's my job to ensure that if we need to make critical decisions, life-saving decisions, at a moment's notice that we're able to do that – and I can't wait on the state or anyone else to do that for our city. We need to do it ourselves.”

Gov. Jim Justice said in a Friday news conference that he believes the virus — which has, as of Sunday night, stricken more than 162,000 people globally and caused more than 6,000 deaths — is in West Virginia but has not been detected. 

“We know it’s here,” Justice said. “ I mean, let’s be real. It has to be here. We just haven’t found it yet.”

Justice and other state officials have taken various steps to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, including closing schools until at least March 27, and suspending visitations at state corrections centers. Universities around the state have also extended their respective spring breaks and are transitioning to online learning environments. The governor has announced a news conference to be held Monday at 2 p.m. to update the status of the state's response to the pandemic.

Along with the issuance of Charleston’s state of emergency, Mayor Goodwin said Monday’s scheduled meeting of the city council would be held electronically. 

“I was very limited in my way of being able to ask members to stay to stay at home,” Goodwin said. “We can still have counsel, we just need to do it online. Without this declaration, I was not able to do that.”

With an estimated population of just over 47,000 residents, Charleston is West Virginia’s largest city and the state capital.