Healthcare, Latest News, State Government

Justice adds gyms, health clubs, rec facilities to COVID-19 closure list

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday extended his business closure order to include gyms, health clubs and recreational facilities.

He also repeated his plea for people to stay home and work from home, and ordered his cabinet secretaries to let all employees to work from home except those needed for essential service. “Home is the key to everything here.”

Justice originally ordered on Tuesday – and spelled out in a written executive order on Wednesday — that restaurants, bars and casinos close, allowing restaurants and bars to offer takeout or delivery. Wednesday’s announcement brings it closer to the status of neighboring states, where hair salons and other such businesses are also closed.

The executive order doesn’t specify two weeks but Justice said the closures will last two weeks during Wednesday’s press conference.

It was later clarified that recreational facilities means places where people can congregate for sporting activities and exchange bodily fluids – sweat and saliva. It doesn’t include bowling alleys at this point but that’s subject to change. The inclusion of hair salons, tanning parlors and such is also under review as the situation continues to evolve.

Justice spent much of his Wednesday press conference pressing his call for social distancing: Avoid large crowds, keep 6 feet apart, stay home if possible. And hygiene: wash your hands. Keep your hands off your face.

“It’s a time for us to rise up and be what we are,” he said. “That’s West Virginia mountaineer strong.”

He added later, “If we continue to listen to what I’m telling you every day will get better and better and better. If we don’t people will die.”

Justice also addressed comments from President Trump, who implied on Tuesday that West Virginia may not need federal mobile testing units because at that time there were no confirmed cases. “Big Jim the governor, he must be doing a good job,” Trump said.

Justice said he had a call out to Trump – and he left the press conference early to try to get through to Trump – to clarify to Trump that West Virginia is a high-risk state and not drop his guard. “He’s not going to let West Virginia down because he’s not going to let Big Jim down.”

The governor emphasized that grocery stores, drug stores and gas stations will remain open. “We don’t need to go panic buy.” Stay calm and be smart, he said. “Have confidence that we’ve got this but we’ve got to have you helping one another.”

Other issues

Conversation touched on economic aspects of the pandemic. Justice said the state is still good to go for March. But 1,200 people applied for unemployment Tuesday, compared to 5,300 for all of February. If we stayed on that pace, we’d have 25,000 or 30,000 versus 5,300. And it’s going to get worse. This is a very, very serious moment. … We can beat it, and we will beat it, but we’ve all got to recognized what we’ve got to do.

State Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts picked up on that theme. Some companies are allowing or even requiring employees to work from home. Some are working on extended leave policies.

“We believe that small businesses in particular will be really set back by all the events that are occurring,” he said. The Chamber wants to help and will provide items to local chambers that they would typically buy from it for free. “We think that particularly in our smaller towns and comminutes and among our smaller businesses the pain will be great and protected.” But they hope it won’t be.

Conversation turned to testing resources and the frustrating lack of them — the issue Justice intended to talk to Trump about. Health officials had no firm answers but said they and the state’s congressional delegation are working on it and supplies are expected. Hospitals are initiating their own testing.

They discussed a letter Donnie Haynes, Director of the Department of Health and Human Resources Center for Threat Preparedness sent to the U.S. Public Health Service. It noted that West Virginia’s age, income and low health level make it a high-risk state.

DHHR knows that millions of tests and supplies are available but are being sent to large areas with disease transmissions, he said. Meanwhile, West Virginia requested 160,000 N-95 filter makes but would receive only 18,000, and in fact received only 2,220. DHHR requested 42,000 surgical makes and got none.

“Needless to say,” he said, “this allotment is wholly insufficient to address the basic and immediate needs of our front-line health care and public health workers.”

Later in the day, Justice tweeted about his call to Trump: “Thank you to my friend @realDonaldTrump. I really appreciate you taking my call today and agreeing to quickly provide swabs and other testing supplies that will really help the people of WV. Everyone in WV surely knows how much you love all of us. Keep up the great work!”

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