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Mon County bars to reopen Monday with additonal outdoor space; outdoor rules still in the works

MORGANTOWN — Monongalia County bars remain on course to reopen on Monday, with expanded outdoor space capabilities, Gov. Jim Justice said Friday.

Justice originally closed the bars for 10 days starting July 14 to attempt to curb a local outbreak associated with young adults congregating at downtown Morgantown bars, then extended the closure three more times.

The Monday reopening was conditioned on the facility owners working with local and state officials to develop safety protocols. County officials and a coalition of Morgantown businesses put together a set of proposals.

Among them: No one under 21 will be admitted. Dance floors will be closed and there will be no live entertainment. No one will be admitted without a mask. All staff will wear masks. Standard COVID screening be given prior to entry. Indoor capacity will be reduced 50%. The Mon County Health Department will be notified of employees who test positive.

Asked by The Dominion Post about the outdoor opportunities, Governor’s Office General Counsel Brian Abraham said they are still working on the rules with the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration.

It won’t be like Bourbon Street, in New Orleans, Abraham said, where people can walk up and down the street with drinks in hand. They are looking at fenced areas unique to each place with additional seating.

In light of the previous outbreak, Justice said, “We’re going to have to stay on top of it. If we have to back away from it, we will. We urge everyone to be super safe in that arena.”

Return to school

Justice and state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch talked about various aspects of schools preparing to reopen.

The county superintendents, Burch said, have plans in place for in-person, virtual and hybrid instruction.

The color-coded County Alert System map will be key in making decisions, he said. It now appears on the Department of Health and Human Resources coronavirus dashboard and starting 9 p.m. Saturday the first official snapshot will be posted on the Department of Education website. That snapshot will serve as a trial run for Sept. 5.

The Sept. 5 map will guide counties for the first week of classes, he said. The green-yellow-orange-red codes will guide mask wearing, in-person instruction and sports activities. The Department will post a FAQ guide with the map and people with questions can call the hotline at 304-957-1234.

“We really appreciate even the counties are listening to the folks that want options,” Burch said. “I encourage everyone to keep looking at the map. It will guide our decisions.”

Justice repeated his previous comments that the state has about $94 million in federal funds available to help schools prepare to operate safely and obtain PPE, cleaning supplies and such.

Answering a question about some schools that have complained they lack supplies, Burch said, “Communication is key. They’ve got to let us know.”

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch described some of the challenges of keeping the map current, with 4,000 to 6,000 tests conducted per day and the results coming in scattered throughout the day, and some results delayed for days.

Nursing home and jail/prison cases have to be excluded manually, since the map is focused on community spread, he said. Errors will occur and they’re looking how how to automate the process.

In response to another question, Burch said about 27% of parents statewide have opted for virtual school for their kids.

Justice pointed out that West Virginia is the first and so far only state to use this system for its schools. “It’s tough stuff and itss complicated. Nobody’s got the playbook.”

COVID numbers

When COVID-related deaths occur, Justice opens his briefings announcing them. He opened Friday saying, “It’s not a very good day.” There were 12 deaths since Wednesday, bringing the total to 202.

There were 191 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the daily positive rate over his desired benchmark of 3%, to 3.14%, along with 1,763 total active cases. The Rt value remained good, at .89, sixth best in the U.S. at the time of the briefing. By Friday afternoon it had climbed to .91, 11th best but still under 1.

There were 33 long-term care home outbreaks.

Justice equated enduring the pandemic to squirrel hunting in the mountains, where it gets steep as it goes. “We’re in the last part of the mountain,” he said. “I know how easy it would be to slide back down. … Right now’s when you’ve really got to suck it up, West Virginia. Hang with me.”

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh previously talked about incidences of COVID reinfection. A Hong Kong man had become reinfected but his second case was less serious. But now a Nevada resident has a second case of COVID and this one is worse. “It really tells us we need to be very careful and we want to protect ourselves.”

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