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Morgantown Council weighs bar closure, gathering limits as numbers climb


That was a buzzword Tuesday evening as Morgantown City Council weighed what it can and should do to head off a spike in COVID-19 numbers that, according to some, was easily predictable.

Meanwhile, a couple blocks from city hall, the city’s bars ramped up for their second evening of service since a governor’s executive order closed the county’s bars on July 14 due to a rapid jump in positive cases.

Unlike in mid-July, WVU’s fall semester is now underway. Pictures on social media Tuesday evening showed large — and largely unmasked — crowds gathered outside various establishments.

Based on the WVDHHR county alert system, Monongalia County has watched its seven-day rolling average of positive cases per 100,000 population jump from 7.85 on Aug. 29 to 11.63 on Aug. 30 to 15.15 on Aug. 31, putting the county solidly in the “orange” category signifying between 10 and 24.9 cases per 100,000 and putting activities like prep sports and the Sept. 8 start of public schools in jeopardy.

Councilor Zack Cruze expressed a desire to see an emergency city order closing the city’s bars back down. He also pushed for a further restriction of social gatherings, from 25 to 10. Councilor Barry Wendell agreed with the reduction, explaining he believed it should also apply to religious gatherings. 

Both were ultimately outnumbered.

“I think the fact that we’re discussing how we can get around keeping things open and not keeping things open in the middle of a pandemic, when we see our numbers spiking right now — we’ve gone from seven to 10, to 14 to 44 today. We know we’re spiking,” Cruze said, adding “My opinion is for us to respond like this is a deadly global pandemic, like it actually is.”

After well over an hour of discussion, council opted to actually loosen the city’s previous emergency ordinance as it pertains to bars and restaurants to bring it in line with what was put forward by Governor Jim Justice. Previously, the city’s order restricted all indoor gathering to 25. Now, bars and restaurants can be up to 50% capacity.

However, it also gave Interim City Manager Emily Muzzarelli the discretion to further limit the numbers allowed to gather — both socially in private residences and in eating and drinking establishments — in consultation with state and county health officials as the numbers dictate.

“It seems like we have a lot of  what we need in place in working with the governor,” Councilor Jenny Selin said. “Then, as soon as it gets worse, we can, through our manager, go after the activities that are making things worse.”

The vote to approve Emergency Ordinance No. 2020-5 — amended to include the above authority for the city manager — passed 5-2 with Cruze and Wendell voting in the minority.