by Kate Shunney
Morgan County Commissioners have approved and signed an Emergency Order to impose rules meant to help stem the spread of the highly-contagious coronavirus between county residents.
The order passed last Tuesday, three days after West Virginia Governor Jim Justice directed tighter rules about gatherings and business operations on the Eastern Panhandle, one of the state’s “hot spots” for COVID-19 cases.
At press time, Morgan County has six confirmed cases of the disease reported by the state.
As of Tuesday, April 14, there are 98 confirmed COVID-19 cases in neighboring Berkeley County, five in Hampshire County to the west, 95 cases in Washington County, Md. to the north and 66 cases in Frederick County, Va. to the south.
Many Morgan County residents typically travel to surrounding counties for work.
Order in effect now
Morgan County’s Emergency Order applies to “residents, businesses and public bodies of Morgan County” and went into effect on Tuesday, April 7.
The order says “residents shall shelter-in-place to the greatest extent possible, leaving their homes and places of abode for essential purposes only.”
Those “essential purposes” include buying food or medicine for themselves or others who are at high risk of disease, working at an essential job, caring for livestock or animals or attending medical appointments.
County officials have ordered there are to be no gatherings of more than five people. Individuals should maintain more than six feet between them.
In essential businesses that continue to operate, employees should work from home or remotely, the order says.
County offices that remain open will operate on normal schedules “with rotating skeleton crews” and all employees are deemed to be “on call.”
No short-term rooms, rentals
Local lodging businesses, from hotels and B&Bs to vacation rental properties, can no longer take guests for daily/nightly/hourly rentals. They can, however, provide rooms or rentals if a customer “agrees to rent such room for a minimum of 14 days.”
That period of time aligns with quarantine recommendations to ensure a person is not ill or is no longer contagious if infected with the virus.
Hotels, motels, rentals and inns can provide rooms or space to health care providers, under the order.
Morgan County businesses that remain open to sell food, gas, medicine or offer essential services must limit the number of people in their establishment to reduce person to person contact.
The Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department advises that the number of people inside a business is limited by square footage.
Under the order, businesses “whose sales are comprised of 80% grocery food products” can allow 2.5 people per each 1,000 square feet of interior space “at any one time.”
Other businesses can permit two people per 1,000 square feet of interior space.
Businesses must also limit the number of shopping carts offered and the number of parking spaces open, to keep customer numbers within the acceptable range. Businesses must ensure that employees and customers stay six feet apart.
The county’s order says failure to comply with the restrictions can result in fines or closure of a business while the order is in effect. There is no end date for the order.
Commissioners unanimously approved the order in a special meeting held at the Morgan County Courthouse and live streamed on social media.
“It’s very important that each and every business take this seriously,” said Commissioner Sean Forney. “Please do your part to make public safety a priority.”
During an emergency meeting on Friday, April 10, the Morgan County Commission issued another directive related to COVID-19.
Under their action, Health Department officials can notify Morgan County 911 of the identity and home location of anyone with a confirmed case of the virus. That information will allow first responders to take the necessary precautions and wear protective equipment if they are dispatched to help that person or called to their residence.