by Kate Shunney
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice last Friday issued an Executive Order directly aimed at limiting the spread of a growing number of cases of coronavirus illness in the Eastern Panhandle. The order took effect at 12 a.m. on Saturday, April 4.
The new rules come on top of West Virginia’s “Stay at Home” order.
Over the weekend, state officials gave public health officials in the Eastern Panhandle, Monongalia, Harrison, and Kanawha counties greater authority to restrict the numbers of people allowed into public establishments and to impose other rules to reduce human contact as the numbers of coronavirus illness rise.
As of Tuesday, April 7, Morgan County had four confirmed cases of COVID-19. Berkeley County had 57 cases, and Jefferson County had reported 31 cases to state officials.
On Saturday, Gov. Justice said 62% of all the positive cases of COVID-19 in West Virginia were in the six counties where tighter rules are now in place.
“I have been monitoring this situation all day and decided to take this action tonight after my medical experts advised me that these counties are the next areas where community clusters may soon develop,” the governor said.
He cited reports of crowds at stores as proof that tighter rules are required.
“[T]o stop the spread of COVID-19 we MUST stay at home as much as possible and we MUST remember to socially distance when we go out for necessities. The stay-at-home order and the guidelines by our medical experts need to be taken very seriously at this time,” Justice said.
West Virginia DHHR was reporting 412 total cases of COVID-19. State officials have said limited testing activity means there are and have been many more cases of the disease in the state.
Morgan-Berkeley Health Department health officials have said the same, advising that each confirmed case of COVID-19 likely represents 10 other cases in the community.
The Morgan County Health Department’s chief medical officer, Dr. Terrence Reidy, had previously said the public should not panic as the number of confirmed cases of the viral disease climb. Dr. Reidy said more testing will confirm that the virus has been in the area.
Fewer people, more space
The following orders are now in effect in Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties:
–No gatherings larger than five people
–Six foot distancing during outdoor activities
–Public and private employers order employees to work from home or remotely
–Health departments establish protocols to limit occupancy at any location open to the public
–West Virginia National Guard to assist counties to implement the order and deliver needed resources
–West Virginia State Police will help counties enforce the stricter regulations.
The full order can be read online at https://governor.wv.gov/ It remains in place until further notice.
Under the governor’s order, “essential” businesses that continue to operate in Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties must limit direct contact between individuals at those businesses.
Businesses that are still open to the public must limit the number of employees and public in their establishment.
That requires employers to direct their employees to work from home or remotely “to the maximum extent possible,” the order directs.
The new rules also give local Health Departments the power to close down establishments that can’t ensure customers can remain at a distance from each other and staff, or otherwise operate safely.
Morgan County Sheriff K.C. Bohrer said his office has received a multitude of calls from the public about the order since it took effect, and how officers will enforce the measures.
“We’re trying to respond to folks as much as we can,” Bohrer aid.
The governor’s orders so far have specifically called for the West Virginia State Police to assist in enforcing new regulations, with help from local law enforcement.
People have called to report out-of-state cars at local lodging businesses, campground activity, gatherings for religious worship and parties, Bohrer said.
“Fortunately we haven’t had to do all-out enforcement,” he said. Officers can advise the public how to comply with the order.
Morgan County’s Office of Homeland Security used their emergency notification system to send out information about the order on Sunday to county residents who have signed up for alerts.
Steps to reduce spread
The coronavirus is easily spread through respiratory droplets. The virus can cause mild to severe respiratory illness.
The public should stay home unless they have a necessity to get medication, food or medical care. Local residents should also continue to wash their hands very often for at least 20 seconds per washing, keep hands away from the face and sanitize surfaces that are touched often.
Residents who experience shortness of breath, a dry cough or fever should contact their doctor or clinic to determine if they need to be tested and how to manage symptoms.
Those with confirmed COVID-19 illness or exposure, or suspected illness, are asked to keep themselves away from family members and others when possible, especially away from older people and those with underlying health conditions.
The Morgan County Health Department can be reached at 304-258-1513 for additional information.
West Virginia’s COVID-19 hotline phone number is 1-800-877-4304.