Government, Healthcare, Latest News, State Government

Gov. Justice issues statewide stay-at-home order, closes all nonessential businesses

MORGANTOWN – In the wake of a positive test of a Sundale nursing home resident, Gov. Jim Justice on Monday issued a statewide stay-at-home order and closure of all nonessential businesses, both to go into effect at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Justice also closed state park cabins and restrooms and declared Wednesday a Day of of State Prayer. “Now’s the time to be looking to God above for any assistance we possibly can,” he said during his Monday press conference.

Justice said that the order is not a declaration of martial law or a lockdown.

Residents can still go the grocery store, the pharmacy or doctor, enjoy outside recreation and help neighbors or family members and travel out of state.

They should not, a copy of his order says, go to work if the business is providing nonessential service, visit friends or family without urgent need, get closer than 6 feet to someone, or visit a hospital or nursing home.

“In every way, shape, form or fashion, keep consulting your God above,” Justice said. “We can go on about our lives if we go on in a really smart way.”

The state will rely largely on people’s good faith and common sense to follow the order, officials said at the conference. They won’t need to carry passes or ID with them.

Adjutant General James Hoyer said, “We have enough faith in the people of West Virginia to do things we need to do. … We know the people will step up.” Patrolling the streets is not the appropriate use of the National Guard.

If someone is caught, Justice’s General Counsel Brian Abraham said, law enforcement could issue an order to comply. The attorney general’s office is working on that.

Justice said he doesn’t know how long the orders will stay in effect. He hopes the virus spread plays out during the 15-day window that we’re already several days into.

An executive order regarding the stay-at-home order and the business closures defines essential businesses. They include: healthcare, health insurance, grocery stores and pharmacies, food and beverage makers and agriculture, human service organizations and childcare facilities, coal mining and coal-fired power, media, hardware stores, gas stations and public transit, banks and laundromats.

Residents will also still be able to get drive-through, takeout or delivery restaurant services.

Bureau of Public Health Commissioner Cathy Slemp said that the Sundale nursing home case (see related story) triggered the orders. She and Justice elaborated that up until that case was identified, all the others were tied to out-of-state travel. This was this first case of community transmission.

WVU Vice President and Executive Dean for Health Sciences Clay Marsh said that if the rate of spread isn’t stopped, it leads to a surge and affects healthcare workers. It also increases the death rate. If contained, the death rate is about 1% but a surge could raise it to 3-5%. Italy, which failed to take adequate precautionary measure, is at 8%, he said.

The business closures that went into effect last week have already dented the state economy, Justice said. “We are processing unemployment claims at light sped.” Last week, WorkForce West Virginia processed 17,000 unemployment claims and he expects that number to rise.

He also justified his Saturday speech, which many have publicly criticized as rambling and pointless.

He had said Friday that he wouldn’t make a weekend speech unless he had something to announce. No announcement came during his Saturday speech, which many said amounted to a pep talk.

Justice admitted that’s what he intended. He wanted to tell people to “do better” regarding social distancing and staying at home and away from crowds. He said Saturday that some people were still getting together to play bingo, in defiance of commonsense.

He said on Monday, “At the time we went on the air, every single one of us … no one thought it was necessary at that point in time to take the biggest step forward and shut the state down.”

Separately, while the secretary of state’s office works to roll out absentee ballot voting for all who request it, two Monongalia County delegates have sent a letter to the governor saying that’s not enough.

Democrats Barbara Evans Fleischauer and Evan Hansen say in their letter that the secretary of state should mail ballot out to all voters and arrange for a vote-by-mail primary to protect voters and poll workers.

“We think the best solution to safeguard the health of our citizens for the upcoming primary would be to mail ballots to all eligible voters with clear explanations of new procedures for their return to county clerks. We know there are numerous legal, practical and financial obstacles, as well as timing issues, to overcome with this proposed solution,” they say.

“This solution would necessarily place a very large burden on our county clerks, both in terms of staffing, funding, and protection of staff. These issues would need to be resolved in advance.”

They also urge Justice to assemble a task force to craft a bill to create a vote-by-mail program in time for the November election, and call a special session with appropriate safety measures to get the bill passed.

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