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Monongalia, Harrison counties want off COVID-19 hotspot designation list

MORGANTOWN — Both the Monongalia and Harrison county commissions intend to ask Gov. Jim Justice to remove their counties from the list of areas designated as COVID-19 hotspots.

Commissioners plan to ask that the designation  be dropped on May 21, the same day statewide restrictions on business and recreation will be further reduced, allowing for activities like the reopening of nonessential retail stores and  indoor dining, albeit at reduced capacity.

The request, Commission President Ed Hawkins explained, is an attempt to reduce confusion as the county moves forward with the governor’s timeline to reopen the state.

While businesses in a hotspot can reopen, the designation limits the number allowed to gather at five or fewer.

He said the county initially wanted to keep the restriction in place through  WVU’s move-out period. A designated window for off campus students ends Sunday. Students in residents halls can return to collect their belongings between Monday and June 6. 

“We wanted to keep this and we requested to keep this while the students and parents were coming in and moving out of this county,” Hawkins said. “However, in that the new designations are planned for next Thursday, we feel that this would be best if our county operate on this level without conflict, interpretations or rulings.”

Dr. Lee Smith, Monongalia County’s Chief Medical Officer, consulted with the commission on this decision. Smith recently explained that Monongalia County has remained a hotspot because the county continues to see new cases.

“We’ve not seen the top of the mountain. We have not plateaued,” he said.

That said, the MCHD is on record supporting the plans of President Trump and Gov. Justice to re-open businesses if done in a “measured and reasonable manner.”

Harrison County Commissioner Patsy Trecost praised the efforts of county health departments. He said the Harrison County Health Department agrees with the commission’s decision.

“Right now it’s going to get to the point where you’re going to have our health department and our county commission saying we no longer want to be a hotspot. We’ll comply with everything you tell us to comply to. If not, you’re going to have to give us an explanation,” he said. “How can you have people at every other table in a restaurant, but tell our court system they can only have four people in a courtroom? It’s frustrating for us, for our business centers, our churches our courthouse. We want one set of guidelines for everybody to follow.”

Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom said infection numbers are being scrutinized daily. Both he and Hawkins urged the continued observation of social distancing and the use of masks and other protective equipment.

Bloom also urged civility and cooperation.

“After four weeks, emotions are starting to run high about staying at home. I just ask the public that we continue to maybe have differences of opinions, but continue to work together, whether it be the county or the state, to resolve these issues,” he said. “It doesn’t help when we build a wall and one side says this and one side says that. We need to work together.”

Along with Monongalia and Harrison, Marion, Berkeley and Jefferson counties are also designated hotspots.

Jackson, Kanawha, Ohio, Cabell, Wayne and Wood counties have also been identified as hotspots, but have since had the designation dropped.