CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday the further lessening of restrictions on businesses, as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic.
The changes are set to take effect at midnight going into Saturday.
The governor has lifted capacity restrictions at restaurants and bars, provided social distancing is maintained and customers wear masks. He did emphasize that this will only affect seating capacity at these establishments.
“We’ll have no standing room for people to congregate, like in the bars, and everything. This is 100% of their seating capacity,” Justice explained.
As for small businesses and retail stores, the governor said he is lifting capacity limitations at these locations, too.
“We do not see in our, in our small businesses and retail stores a crowding, or an issue there that causes us a problem right now.
“We absolutely expect you to continue to wear your mask, and everything. Uh, we are not backing off of our mask mandate at this time.”
Justice used the coming spring to illustrate his point about making progress on relaxing the restrictions, while also exercising wisdom in not going too fast too quickly.
“Let’s don’t get in a situation to where one robin makes spring because one robin doesn’t make spring,” Justice said. “We’re absolutely better, but when you turn around early, early, early in the spring, maybe even before now, and all a sudden, you know, a robin or two flies in, you think, ‘Oh, gosh, winter’s gone, winter’s gone,’ and before you know it, you awaken to the god-awfullest storm in the world. We don’t want to, we don’t want to awaken to that.
“Let’s just don’t get too anxious to lift everything away, and then get some level of whiplash that really hurts us.”
Other venues are also seeing relaxed regulations. Gyms, fitness centers and museums can move to 100% capacity, Justice said.
As for public gatherings, the limit is being increased from 75 people to 100 people.
Justice is relaxing restrictions on travel youth sports, unless the county is red on the alert system map. As for high school sports, he said the state is following the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission’s lead on any decisions related to attendance at games.
The governor expressed optimism that fairs and festivals can resume in 2021; however, he declined to offer any specifics on what that might entail in order to bring it to pass.
“As we get closer, you know, we’ll, uh, we’ll clarify, you know, the different guidelines, and everything, but, uh, but I’m very, very hopeful that our fairs and festivals will go on like they have in the past,” said Justice.
Justice answered a question about when he might consider removing the mask mandate that has been in effect for months, stating that he is deferring to health experts in his decision making.
“From the standpoint of the masks, you know, I would just say just this, I’m going to continue to listen to the medical experts. They highly, highly, highly recommend at this point in time to don’t just jump because others are jumping,” said Justice.
“I understand the frustration about the masks. I mean, I get every bit of that,” he continued. “But, you didn’t hire me to just get it. You hired me to act and to do the smart stuff.
“What could it hurt? What could it hurt if we could’ve gotten rid of this mask today, and we put it off for two or three more weeks or a month? What could that hurt?” Justice mused. “I mean really, at the end of the day, we know what the downside is if we’re premature.
“We just don’t do something to look good…in the media.”
Justice touched on the possibility of restrictions being put back into place should the situation in the state worsen, though he did not specify what would trigger such a decision.
“There’s absolutely points that would make us put the res—restrictions back on. I hope and pray that they do not come,” said Justice. “I don’t know specifically what those points would be, but our medical experts are watching this around the clock.”
The governor also went over the latest coronavirus figures in the state. 2,318 people in West Virginia have died from coronavirus, with nine more deaths since Wednesday, he said.
“Our…reduction in deaths in the last seven days, or seven weeks, rather, has dropped by 85%. You know, it sounds wonderful, but it’s still tough stuff on these nine great families, on these nine great West Virginians,” said Justice.
The governor reflected on the past year in the state, going back to when he first issued a state of preparedness order.
“Yesterday marked a one-year anniversary, and it’s been a one tough marriage, has it not? A one-year anniversary, you know, where I met with my administration and issued a state of preparedness for West Virginia in preparation for COVID-19. It’s been one tough year,” the governor lamented.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has recorded 287 new cases in the last 24 hours. There are currently 6,144 active cases and 124,502 recoveries. The daily percent positivity is 2.54%, while the cumulative percent positivity is 5.41%.
The county alert system map continues to improve, as more than half of all counties are green. There are currently four orange, nine gold, 10 yellow and 32 green counties.
On the vaccine front, the state has administered 91.4% of total doses received. 323,811 total first doses have been given, while 208,994 people have been fully vaccinated, according to the DHHR.
The governor had previously announced the lowering of the minimum age to get signed up for a vaccine. The minimum for all residents is now 50, while for teachers and school service personnel, it is now 40. Anyone 16 and older who is in the high-risk population with chronic medical conditions can also get registered.
Justice held another virtual town hall Friday to discuss his personal income tax repeal proposal. At the end of his press briefing, he offered further comment on what effects this proposal could have on West Virginia residents.