Task force cites Monongalia County bars for not following COVID-19 guidelines


UPDATE (9/1/20 5:00 p.m.):

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration (WVABCA) has released new information about the compliance checks conducted in Monongalia County.

If it is determined that a bar or restaurant is not in compliance with Gov. Jim Justice’s executive orders, WV Strong Comeback Plan, WVABCA rules and regulations and local ordinances, then businesses will face swift administrative action, which could result in a license suspension, according to the WVABCA. Jennifer Costolo, a sanitarian with the Monongalia County Health Department (MCHD), said these inspections are to ensure safety.

“I think it’s very important,” Costolo said. “Guidelines put forth by the governor’s office and MCHD are put in place to protect the safety of the community while they’re out frequenting these establishments.”

WVABCA Class A licensees in compliance were: Sabraton Station, Code, 4th and Goal, Whitetail Crossing, Coach’s Crab Shack, Lakehouse, Point (the), Almost Heaven Bar and Grill, Purple Cow Lounge and Apothecary Ale House & Cafe, according to a press release.

WVABCA Class A licensees not in compliance were: Tropics, Khloe’s Hot Spot, Crockett’s Lodge, Mason Jar Saloon, Tailgater’s Pub 2, Bugsy’s Beer Garden and High Street Canteen, the release states.

Businesses not in compliance may receive an administration citation, which could entail a warning letter, fine, or suspension.

“The facilities that were issued a notice by MCHD — they will be reinspected within 10 days to ensure that the COVID-19 violations were corrected,” Costolo said. “I can’t speak about what the next steps are going to be in regards to the WVABCA, the state police or the fire marshal’s office.”

In addition to the WVABCA violations, the WVSP issued seven citations, the Monongalia County Health Department issued seven citations, and in the City of Morgantown, the Fire Marshal’s Office issued one citation, the release explains.

The WVABCA said compliance checks will continue to be conducted to ensure compliance of proper face covering, 50% maximum occupancy, only patrons age 21 or older, dance floors closed and no live entertainment.

“I just want to remind everybody to please wear face coverings, practice social distancing and comply if they are asked to quarantine or isolate,” Costolo said. “I would also like to thank the WVABCA, state police, Morgantown Fire Marshal’s Office and the Morgantown City Police for all their help in these efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 here in the community.”

ORIGINAL STORY (9/1/20 11:01 a.m.):

A task force made up of registered sanitarians from the Monongalia County Health Department, agents with the West Virginia Alcohol and Beverage Control Administration (WVABCA), West Virginia State troopers, Morgantown Police and the city’s Fire Marshal division cited several Morgantown bars over the weekend.

The group’s goal was to make sure bars were not serving alcohol without food and adhering to other COVID-19 guidance, officials said.

“This team found some common violations among several establishments,” said Dr. Lee B.
Smith, MCHD executive director and county health officer. “Some citations were issued and
we had the opportunity to go over guidance with these business owners so they could run
their establishments more safely. We are all in this together and having rising numbers of
COVID-19 will have a negative impact on us all.”

The group visited 17 establishments, with the Health Department issuing
violations at seven of them for infractions, including lack of social distancing, not wearing
face coverings, overcrowding and for patrons drinking alcohol without ordering or
consuming food, according to a news release.

In addition to the health department violations, state troopers also issued seven citations for obstructions of the Governor’s Mandate. Six of the violations were COVID-19-related, while one was for underage drinking, the release said.

One bar that was open, with patrons inside, had locked the front door and was issued a citation by a city fire marshal, officials said.

Seven establishments were issued 10-day notices, meaning that a registered sanitarian will
follow up within 10 days to make sure problems have been corrected.

“These were all COVID-based violations,” said Jennifer Costolo-Michael, MCHD
Environmental Health registered sanitarian. “These were issued when there was just
overwhelming evidence of no mask wearing and overcrowding — public health concerns that
could lead to the spread of COVID-19.”

On July 1, MCHD issued a press release noting that several individuals who had visited bars
downtown had tested positive for COVID-19
. This was one contributing factor to a COVID-19 surge in which Monongalia County went from having 162 cases of the virus on June 30 to 100 new cases in the first five days of July, a nearly 68 percent increase, health department officials said.

Additionally, Gov. Jim Justice closed bars in Monongalia County, an order that also meant
that patrons could not go to a restaurant and just order alcohol without any food. The order
went into effect July 13 and was extended until midnight Monday, Aug. 31.

WVABCA Commissioner Fred Wooton said, “During these uncertain and difficult times, the
WVABCA recognizes the challenges and financial hardships placed on the food and
beverage industry. It is critical we all pull together to defeat this global pandemic and reduce
the spread of COVID-19. WVABCA licensed businesses are expected to do their part.”

Bars were allowed to reopen on Monday, Aug. 31 with guidance from the governor’s office
designed to make them safer. That guidance can be found online. Protocols include strictly enforcing 50% capacity and denying entrance to anyone under the age of 21; closing and restricting access to dance floors and prohibiting any live performance or entertainment, officials said.

Costolo-Michael also noted that many bars were closed during the time of the checks and that
there were not a lot of people out.

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