CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday the relaxing of some coronavirus-related restrictions.
These changes will affect schools, restaurants and stores, as well as social gatherings.
Schools and sports:
Beginning next week, Justice said all teachers and school service personnel older than 50 who have requested a vaccine will receive their second doses. Therefore, he is calling on the West Virginia Board of Education to mandate that all counties send students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade back to school full time. He is also signing an executive order to clarify that these students should be in school.
“As far as going back to school, and everything, that’s going to be a decision that really falls with the state board of education. All I can really do is recommend,” Justice explained. “And, it is absolutely my belief that we should be in school full time, period. That’s all there is to it.”
The governor did state the importance of getting students and teachers back in school in a smart and safe way. His guidance will not apply to students in high school.
“From the standpoint of our kids that are 9–12, we all know that they can transmit this thing. All the science tells us they can transmit this thing, you know, significantly different and significantly better than our younger kids,” said Justice.
Justice did state that parents will continue to have the ability to opt their children out of in-school instruction in favor of virtual learning.
He also addressed the standing of winter high school sports in the state. Justice said he has been working with the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission and has asked it to collaborate with county school boards to ensure they have occupancy rules and/or attendance limitations that will meet social distancing requirements and other guidelines.
Restaurants and bars:
The governor said he will sign an executive order to increase the capacity limit at restaurants and bars from 50% to 75%, but there is a caveat.
“That is only that way if social distancing can be maintained between groups,” said Justice. “Bars…may only increase capacity to the extent that they have phys—physical seating for every patron. No standing room for people to congregate will be allowed. Hopefully, we can remove every single one of these limitations in the next couple of weeks.”
Justice commented that he is trying to help restaurants and bars in doing this, in an effort to “take just a little bit more of the burden off their back.”
The governor also expressed optimism about more changes in the weeks ahead.
“I truly believe in the next very few weeks, we’ll be able to move that to 100%.”
Retail and grocery stores:
The capacity limitation for retail outlets is doubling from two people per 1,000 square feet to four people per 1,000 square feet. It is also doubling in grocery stores, going from three people per 1,000 square feet to six people per 1,000 square feet, according to Justice.
“We know that there’s a very low risk of spread with these—with these type businesses, as long as we continue to wear our face masks,” said Justice.
Public gatherings are also affected by the governor’s announcement. The capacity limitation is being relaxed to allow 75 people, which is an increase from 25 people at such gatherings.
“Public gatherings means any gathering of people for purely social purposes. You must continue to social distance, wear face coverings and follow all the…applicable guidelines,” said Justice.
Indoor music performances:
A prohibition on “loud, indoor music performances” is being rescinded, which will allow them to take place again. However, such events that would incorporate vocals or wind instruments are still prohibited at this time.
Music performances that will be allowed must follow established coronavirus guidelines.
“We had to learn to live with this, and we have to be as safe as we can possibly be, but we’ve gotta go on, don’t we? And, that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Justice.
Justice stated that his executive orders will take effect at midnight going into Saturday.
The daily percent positivity is 3.12%, while the cumulative percent positivity stands at 5.52%, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. So far, the state has administered 258,451 first doses of coronavirus vaccines, and 154,798 people are fully vaccinated.
The governor was optimistic about the number of active cases of coronavirus in the state.
“For the first time since November the 15th, we are less than 10,000 active cases in West Virginia. We’re at 9,624 active cases in West Virginia, and they have gone down now 34 straight days,” said Justice.
There are 117,183 recoveries in the state. It is also the first time since Nov. 10 that West Virginia has had fewer than 300 hospitalizations, according to Justice. That number is currently 293.
There are still no red counties on the county alert system map, and the number of green counties continues to increase. The breakdown is currently nine orange, 10 gold, 11 yellow and 25 green.