Community, Government, Latest News, Monongalia County

Social distancing, masks, small group sizes, hand washing still important as businesses ramp up

While some businesses are starting to reopen as part of Gov. Jim Justice’s “Safer at Home” phase of his “Comeback” plan, small group sizes, wearing masks, maintaining a social distance of at least 6 feet and hand-washing are still important elements in the fight against COVID-19.

“Numbers of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 continue to increase and have never stopped in Monongalia County,” said Dr. Lee B. Smith, Monongalia County Health Department executive director and county health officer. “We have not reached the pinnacle nor gained the ability to look out from the maximum number.”

Smith said while MCHD supports the plans of President Trump and Justice to re-open businesses, “It needs to be done in a measured and reasonable manner.”

Monongalia County is still considered one of the state’s hotspots, with more cases than all other West Virginia counties except Berkeley, Kanawha and Jackson counties. As of May 6, Monongalia County was at 110, up two from the previous day.

“Maintaining our status as a hotspot serves as a reminder that this is far from over,” Smith said. “We need to remain vigilant in monitoring the number of diagnosed cases. Because we are a hotspot, we will follow a more conservative approach.

“If we see a high number of cases, then commerce may halt or return to closure of all but essential services,” Smith said. “There is much at risk and we need to be reasonable in our decision-making in an area where no one has ever been.”

A shopper loads groceries while wearing a mask at the Sabraton Kroger.

“Safer at Home,” which went into effect Monday, allows most counties to hold gatherings of 25 or fewer individuals; however, hotspot counties such as Monongalia County will still maintain public gatherings to the maximum of five individuals, which was put in place earlier.

Monongalia County Health Department’s guidance for safe operation of businesses that are allowed to open continue to follow Executive Order 21-20 by allowing only two customers per 1,000 square inside at any one time, implementing social distancing practices, providing protective barriers between employees and customers and providing plenty of disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and hand washing stations to employees.

Businesses will continue to operate under that order, Smith noted.

“Many store employees are experiencing a large increase of COVID-19 infections, especially those who are in close contact with the public, like cashiers,” he added. “We also know that persons infected may take up to five-seven-14 days before becoming ill. Therefore, the impact of what occurs this week will not be seen until the following week or later.”

MCHD Environmental Health sanitarians continue to work with businesses to ensure a safe environment for employees and patrons as well as responding to any concerns or complaints,

West Virginia University’s move-out period is taking place this month.

The county health department worked with WVU and the Monongalia County Commission and landlords to develop a plan for students to arrive in stages to avoid a lack of social distancing at any location. Family members and students who were not moving into other Morgantown area apartments also have a 24-hour time limit before they must leave for home or be asked to quarantine for 14 days.

“Some students will be coming from hotspot areas with higher rates of infection than Monongalia County, and county officials want to make every effort to not have our COVID-19 cases increase anymore than they already are,” Smith said.

Links to orders issued by the governor as well as Monongalia County Health Department can be found at

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