MORGANTOWN — Monongalia County bars and indoor-dining establishments faced renewed closure as COVID-19 numbers continue to climb, Gov. Jim Justice said Friday.
Meanwhile, he and Secondary School Athletic Commission Executive Director Bernie Dolan announced a plan to resume school fall sports starting Aug. 17.
Mon County spike
Statewide, the daily new positive case count continued spiking, with 144 on Wednesday and 130 on Thursday. Thursday’s daily positive rate was 3.86%. And COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh noted that the state’s Rt value, indicating the transmission rate, was 1.37, the nation’s highest.
Mon County’s cumulative case number rose from 388 Wednesday morning to 416 Thursday afternoon, with 246 active cases. “All of know that there there could be a hot spot anywhere. And today that hot spot is no question in Mon County,” Justice said.
He reminded everyone that his mask order is mandatory in public buildings. He’s held back the reins on imposing penalties. “And we don’t want to drive ourselves … to where we’re divided. … I trust you to be honorable, really, really good people.”
He’d like to see mask wearing hit 99.9%. “And if Cousin Eddie doesn’t want to wear a mask, someway somebody’s going to have to convince Cousin Eddie to wear a mask too.”
For Mon, he said, “We have to be looking now at closing the bars. We have to be looking at closing indoor dining unless we get a real movement in our direction.”
Asked by The Dominion Post when the decision might come, given that people would be hitting the bars and restaurants Friday night and through the weekend, he said, “It is a really, really tough call.”
Justice said owners employees and their families are all affected by closures. “If our numbers continue over the weekend in a negative way, we’re going to have in Mon County to shut down our bars and restaurants [indoor dining].”
If the numbers flatten some or ease back, that measure might not be needed. “Monday will be a big day.”
He’s not not ready to impose that level of additional hardship yet, he said, but it’s a critical situation and he he doesn’t want to let it get out of control. They have to stop the case climb now or students may not be able to return to WVU.
About 15 Morgantown-area restaurants have already voluntarily closed or returned to take-out only as a precaution. West Virginia Public Broadcasting pointed that out to Justice and Justice remarked that seeing people closing voluntarily gives more information on making his decision.
Fall sports to resume
Justice kicked off the sports discussion noting,”Bernie and I surely recognize the importance of sports.” Sports offer life lessons and sometimes keep kids in school.
Before turning the floor over to Dolan, he noted that the plan depends on how the virus spread plays out in the coming weeks. The guiding phrase is, “If we can. … We’re going to protect our kids in every way,” and those who work with the kids.
Dolan said the start of sports practice will be pushed back from Aug. 3 to Aug. 17. Golf matches will start Aug. 24; volleyball, cross country, cheer, soccer competitions will begin Sept. 2; the first football games will be Sept. 3.
Social distancing will be required at games, and attendees must wear masks, he said. “It’s up to the public to decide if we’ll have athletics come this fall.” So cooperation is necessary. Attendance limits are likely.”
Justice introduced Beckley-area physician Dr. Ayne Amjad as the new commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, replacing Dr. Cathy Slemp who was previously ousted over errors in reporting active case numbers.
Justice said of Amjad, “She is absolutely a star beyond belief. … We’re really, really proud to have her.” As numbers trend in the wrong direction, “I’m sure she’ll be a tremendous, tremendous help.”
Amjad spoke briefly, saying, “I’m excited to be part of the team and we’ll get started right away to address everything that needs to be done.”
Justice made a couple adjustments to his allocation of CARES Act money. He expanded the number of small businesses that can qualify for $5,000 grants. It was originally intended for businesses employing five to 35 people; now businesses employing one to 35 can apply.
Also, he’s diverting half of the $100 million he was sending to the Division of Highways to broadband expansion, he said. The $50 million for broadband will be for distance education, telehealth and other projects that qualify for CARES money. If any CARES money is leftover, he’ll channel it back to DOH.
Marsh talked about the state’s high Rt value. “The virus is spreading faster person-to-person in West Virginia right now than any other state in the country,” he said.
In the past 10 days to 2 weeks we’ve doubled active cases; but there’s a two- to three-week lag in between when the virus spreads and people getting sick. “It is really critical that we mitigate very aggressively today.” If we don’t, in 12 days we’ll see an update in sickness.
He also noted that a mask is necessary but is not a substitute for physical distancing; both better than either alone. “Now’s the time that all of us are calling on each citizen to make sure that we are doubling our efforts to protect ourselves and protect each other.”
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