WATCH: Influential West Virginians discuss reopening the state in town hall meeting

West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) – Federal, state and local leaders from across the Mountain State came together Wednesday evening for a special town hall examining the reopening of West Virginia. The event was led by WBOY’s Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said the Mountain State has created a miracle of sorts and avoided the greater number of cases that surrounding states have seen.

“We haven’t done this as Democrats and Republicans and Independents, we’ve done this as West Virginians pulling the rope together and we produced something that is unbelievable,” he said.

With more testing capabilities, Justice said the state will be able to help groups that are considered high-risk for the coronavirus.

United States Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) said the Senate continues to urge President Donald Trump to enact the Defense Production Act. This will help ensure every manufacturer that can produce testing can do so, he said.

Manchin also introduced legislation, he said, that will assist businesses keep employees on the payroll.

“We think this will help an awful lot of businesses, help a lot of their employees stay employed and get a paycheck,” Manchin said.

Justice also said he doesn’t plan to make masks mandatory. Each resident must understand how the state got to where they are today, he said. The numbers are very good right now, Justice said, and the state got here by working together. He doesn’t want to do anything that will divide the state unless absolutely necessary.

BUSINESSES AND RELIGIOUS LIFE

Business leaders from throughout the state also joined Curtis to discuss the future of business in the Mountain State.

Wally Thornhill, owner of Thornhill Auto Group, said “Automotive News” named the re-starting the supply chain, the “great restart of 2020.” The industry must learn how to be more efficient in how it addresses such issues in the future, he said. 

However, Thornhill said everyone must also “find hope in what we do.”

Michelle Rotellini, President and CEO of Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce added that Raleigh County businesses have had to adapt and get creative through online shops and curbside service.

Bishop Mark Brennan of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said Catholics have been deprived of Mass throughout the pandemic and look forward to coming back together. However, they want to do so in the safest way possible.

Local churches continue to adapt services, he said, to keep everyone safe. 

John Deskins, director of WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research, described the current time as the highest level of economic uncertainty since the Great Depression.

However, he still has hope for “a pretty quick recovery,” Deskins said.

Ryan Moore, human resources leader for Procter & Gamble in Berkeley County, added that West Virginia does have some strategic advantages for businesses. The business can get 80% of its goods to consumers within a 24 hour period.

Rotellini said businesses are going to find the Mountain State more attractive, due to its rural aspects.

HEALTH AND LESSONS LEARNED FROM COVID-19

West Virginia COVID-19 “czar” Clay Marsh said residents have been doing well as a state to flatten the curve. It’s going to be important going forward to remember the lessons they learned to help keep each other safe, Marsh said.

WVU Medicine President and CEO Albert Wright added that they took precautions to ensure their facilities could handle large numbers of patients and needed testing.

West Virginia Nurses Association President Joyce Wilson said although many thought the state would see a greater impact due to the amount of older residents, the numbers did stay down.

However, nurses throughout the state still need more personal protective equipment and they still may be negatively impacted, Wilson said.

Marsh said the state currently faces a more nuanced and challenging situation, instead of focusing on the whole state, health officials want to begin focusing on each of the 55 counties.  

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

Steve Roberts from the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce said the Mountain State is a wonderful place to make a life and West Virginians have found ways to adapt and work together during this pandemic.

The Mountain State must prepare for the future, Roberts said, by educating its students and improving the state’s infrastructure.

“And now we need to go out and make sure that the rest of the world knows what we already know, which is West Virginia is truly almost heaven,” he said.

West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said that WVU does plan to re-open in the fall. Although, they will still adapt to the situation at hand and make any adjustments needed.

Most importantly, Gee said, the state will see its beloved football in the fall.

“Even if I have to suit up … ,” Gee says. “I got my ankles taped and I’m ready to go in.”

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