Gov. Jim Justice has again expanded the list of businesses that can reopen to include gyms, health clubs, whitewater rafting and ziplining.
At his daily virtual press briefing Thursday, Justice announced gyms and health clubs will be able to reopen on May 18. The move comes after licensed wellness centers reopened this week. State officials said they received reports that some centers bent the rules and allowed gym-like activities to resume. Additional safety guidelines can be found here.
Under the guidelines, gyms may only operate at 40 percent capacity and patrons and employees must wear personal protective gear and maintain a six-foot distance from one another. Group exercise classes should be held outside, cancelled or attendance limited. In addition, common areas, water fountains, showers, locker rooms, swimming pools, basketball courts, tennis courts among other facilities are not allowed to reopen.
The governor pushed back again questions that he was bowing to some business sectors to hasten reopening plans.
“I am not going to succumb to political pressure when I think, and I’ve been told by my medical experts and all the different soliciting of information we come up with here, that it is the wrong thing to do,” he said.
However, Justice continued to urge West Virginians to stay home if possible, practice appropriate social distancing, and wear masks in public.
“At the drop of a hat we’ll shut it back down in order to be able to protect our people” he said.
Justice also announced plans to allow the state’s whitewater rafting and ziplining companies to begin operations beginning May 21. Personal protective equipment, such as masks, will be encouraged. Raft trips will be limited to six guests and one guide and bus rides to and from the river will be limited to 18 people. Additional guidelines for staff and cleaning equipment will be provided.
Also announced, on Friday, May 15 and Saturday, May 16 the West Virginia National Guard and Department of Health and Human Resources will provide free testing for any resident of Berkeley, Mercer, Jefferson and Raleigh counties. Testing will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Berkeley (Martinsburg): Martinsburg High School, 701 S. Queen Street, Martinsburg, WV
- Jefferson (Charles Town/Ranson): Asbury United Methodist Church, 110 W. North Street, Charles Town, WV
- Mercer (Bluefield): Bluefield State College Harris-Jefferson Student Center Lower Parking Lot, 219 Rock Street, Bluefield, WV
- Raleigh (Beckley): Raleigh County Commission on Aging, 1614 South Kanawha Street, Beckley, WV
“We are targeting these countries to open up that testing to be able to do a significant amount of testing and everything in order to be able to just make us one step better,” Justice said.
Testing is free and available to all residents of those counties and those who are not showing symptoms. Justice said additional countywide testing will be announced at a later date.
Preventing a second wave
State Health Officer Cathy Slemp on Thursday unveiled the state’s plan to ensure secondary outbreaks of COVID-19 are detected quickly.
Slemp said the county health alert systems will be tailored to each of the state’s 55 counties and would flag officials if disease transmission begins to increase as residents return to work and to public places.
She said each county will have a threshold of new cases that if reached would trigger a “rapid assessment.” The threshold will be based on the seven-day rolling sum of new, non-outbreak associated cases based on population size, according to the DHHR. If needed, the county could be placed on “high alert status.”
If that occurs, Slemp said counties could be asked to more strongly reinforce community mitigation measures and resources could be provided for more contract tracing or lab tests.
“It really is meant to help all of us see where and when increasing disease rates are occurring and provide an early call to action,” she said.
The county health alert system is set to go into effect this week.