Two days after they were allowed to reopen, Gov. Jim Justice has again ordered bars in Morgantown and Monongalia County closed indefinitely – telling WVU students his decision came down to a literal matter of life and death.
“Please, kids, we have got to bear down here,” he said in his COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday.
“You are absolutely running the risk of killing somebody.”
The closure went into effect at 4 p.m.
Justice was reacting to a series of photographs showing lines of people without masks, clumped together, waiting to be admitted to a number of bars in the area.
Fall classes started last week, and it didn’t take long, the governor said, for a college-town vibe to upstage the coronavirus.
“Boom. Right off the get-go. We’ve got people standing up on top of people. We’ve got no masks.”
Those same images prompted WVU President Gordon Gee to write a letter to the university community.
“To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement,” the president wrote.
Not following basic safety protocols, Gee said, amounts to a “flagrant disregard for our community’s safety, both the campus community and the city of Morgantown.”
And, Justice said, all of the above just may converged to place Mon County squarely in the red, on the color-coded map by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources that charts the effects of the coronavirus in the Mountain State.
Mon right now is showing orange, with many worried that will slide into red, the worst hue, at 9 p.m. Saturday, when the DHHR updates the map for the coming week.
This coming week also happens to be when Mon County schools will go back in session.
The first day is Tuesday, and if the county is still orange, that means the learning will ensue remotely – and will stay that way until cases drop back down.
Football games and other fall sports also will be suspected for as long as a county district is in the orange or red designation.
COVID-19 is already extending its reach down the main hallway, Justice reported.
Point Pleasant Elementary School in Mason County has pushed its opening back to Sept. 17, he said, after two staffers tested positive for coronavirus.
In Mingo County, Mingo Central High School saw five staffers showing positive for the same, the governor said.
In the meantime, both Justice and state Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said, the Department of Education is fully stocked with the personal protective equipment necessary to hold school in a pandemic – including 2 million masks – ready for delivery, at the asking.
That still may not fit the bill, Fred Albert said.
Albert is president of the American Federal of Teachers-West Virginia, a leading union of educators.
The union hosted a press conference before Justice’s briefing which featured remarks by Ben Salango, the Democratic nominee for governor endorsed by AFT.
Protective gear, Albert said, will only go far in a school building lacking up-to-date ventilation to help quell the coronavirus.
Salango seconded the union president’s remarks, saying the governor simply hasn’t done enough to safely outfit the structures teachers and students will be expected to occupy in a pandemic.
“This is not about politics,” he said.