CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in West Virginia, on Monday, Gov. Jim Justice announced familiar restrictions on public gatherings, as well as ordered bars to temporarily close in Monongalia County, home to West Virginia University.
These orders were to go into effect at 12:01 a.m., Tuesday July 14.
“We have got to significantly restrict the crowd size again (on public gatherings), we went to 100, we’re now going back to 25,” Justice said during his press conference on Monday. “As far as being effective tomorrow (Tuesday, July 14), any fairs, festivals or outdoor concerts, we’re not going to have them…we’re going to go back to a crowd size of 25.”
The governor’s office later clarified, the 25-person limitation applies only to purely social gatherings. It does not apply to any activity, business, or entity that has been deemed essential, such as religious services, weddings, or group meetings, conferences, or other special events held for essential businesses and operations, as defined by Executive Order 9-20, as amended. Such meetings, conferences, or other special events will need to plan for social distancing between attendees based on CDC recommendations.
However, the governor, who talked about his own Christian faith, did specifically address church gatherings in his remarks on Monday.
“Please churches, please understand my (mask) order is mandatory for buildings outside of your home, absolutely it is mandatory that you wear a mask in church, and it is only the smart thing to do…now come on, we’re going the wrong way here and we’ve got to get this thing turned around and get it going the way we want it go.”
“Churches are places of immense importance for all of us as we go to worship…but also because of the indoor setting and the singing and the person-to-person contact, these are also places that we’ve seen in West Virginia, as well as nationally, where there can be very large outbreaks,” Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar said, underscoring the use of masks and social distancing in being “aggressive” at slowing the spread of the virus in any congregate setting.
Marsh also addressed the issue of more younger people becoming affected by the virus, and how bars have also been one area that has been associated with outbreaks not only in West Virginia but across the country.
“Students are coming back to school and a huge threat is the students congregating at the bars,” Justice said via a press release. “During that 10-day period, I am very hopeful that what’s going to happen is that we’re going to begin to see a correction in the numbers.”
Monongalia County restaurants that also include bars will have their bars closed, but will be permitted to continue restaurant service, including the sale of alcoholic beverages to dine-in customers.
According to the Associated Press, Monongalia County reports a quarter of the state’s active virus cases, largely driven by people in their 20s. The AP also reported, during his remarks on Monday, Gov. Justice said sporting events and swimming pools can continue to operate.
Also on Monday, the governor addressed the CARES Act in regards to small businesses funding as follows:
– $150 million will be available for West Virginia small businesses.
– Any West Virginia-based small business, in existence on Feb. 29, 2020, with 1-35 employees will be able to apply for up to $5,000 in grant funding per business.
– Guidelines and instructions on how to apply are available at grants.wv.gov.
According to the governor, since he addressed the public on Friday, 206 more active virus cases were reported as of Monday morning.
More on the local implications of this order for residents of Mason County, in an upcoming edition.
Some information for this article provided by the office of Gov. Jim Justice; Anthony Izaguirre reported for the AP.
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Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.