by KATE SHUNNEY
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice last Thursday said the state will continue on its path to reopen businesses in stages if COVID-19 positive test rates stay under 3%.
On April 30, he issued a new Executive Order that takes effect today, Monday, May 4, at 12:01 a.m. Read the order here: Executive-Order-April-30-2020-Safer-At-Home-Order
Several types of West Virginia business may reopen with restrictions, as of today. Essential businesses that have remained open will keep operating as they have.
The order still encourages state residents to stay home when possible, and only go into public settings when they need vital supplies like food or medicine. Workers are encouraged to keep working from home when possible. West Virginia senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions are also strongly urged to stay at home to protect their health from the highly-contagious respiratory virus that has killed 50 state residents since case tracking began in March.
Open under restrictions
Among those that can open their doors to customers for the first time since last month include barber shops and beauty salons, but they must restrict customer access to their shops.
Clients have to make an appointment and wait in their vehicles until called in. Customers and employees must also wear masks and follow tight hygiene rules under the order.
Restaurants will be able to offer outdoor dining, adding to their take-out and delivery services. too. Dining inside restaurants is still not permitted under the state’s rules.
Small businesses with fewer than 10 employees can also reopen if they have enough room to ensure social distancing (six feet between people) for customers and staff members.
Gatherings for funerals and weddings will be permitted, as long as social distancing is in place and the gathering doesn’t have more than 25 people.
In-person church gatherings are included in that category. Public health officials have said congregations should space themselves out on pews and consider whether to restrict singing, which can spread respiratory droplets known to carry the coronavirus.
Travel Berkeley Springs has developed and offered guidelines for visitor-based businesses to follow if they choose to reopen in the weeks ahead, said officials.
“The guidelines are slightly more strict than those published by the state, however, Berkeley Springs is in the precarious position of balancing opening our doors to those from surrounding areas yet still protecting our community,” the group said in a message to local business owners last Thursday.
“We believe that by businesses adopting these enhanced guidelines, Berkeley Springs will be more successful in keeping our doors open (once allowed) and opening other doors earlier, possibly avoiding a catastrophic economic downfall,” the tourism board told members.
The governor and local officials have emphasized that businesses do not have to open their doors under the new order, but can choose to if they can do it safely.
Local salons are already notifying customers of the new set of guidelines to prepare for reopening.
One business — Shear Perfection in downtown Berkeley Springs — posted on their social media page that customers will be asked to follow new rules in order to get hair and nail services, including wearing a face mask while in their building.
“We are very excited to see you all and we will do our best to get everyone in for an appointment,” the business said.
Total Image salon also posted their new rules for serving clients under the state’s order. They have asked for customers to be patient with the new process and help them comply with regulations to keep stylists and customers safe.
Other shops, like local floral businesses and small specialty shops, will be able to reopen under the governor’s order, as long as they control how many customers can be in their retail space at one time.
Some local stores won’t reopen because owners say they don’t have room to keep customers safe or can’t ensure their employees’ safety. Public health officers advise employers to screen their workers before shifts, asking if they have had contact with anyone who has been ill recently, or if they themselves have any symptoms of illness, including a fever or cough.
Health advice remains
Public health officials in West Virginia and nationally are still repeatedly emphasizing that reducing direct contact between people is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which has infected 1,195 people in West Virginia and killed 50 residents, as of Monday morning. Across the state, 51,783 people have been tested for the respiratory disease.
General guidelines are for individuals to stay six feet from one another, wear face coverings when close to others and to continue regular hand-washing and sanitizing.
Health officers with the Berkeley-Morgan Health Department have encouraged local people to wear face masks anytime they need to be in a public setting. That step is believed to protect from contracting the virus, and to keep people from spreading it during the time period when they might be infected but not showing symptoms yet.
West Virginia public health officials have reported as of Monday they have received results of 51,783 tests for COVID-19 in state residents. By their calculations, the state’s cumulative positive test results stood at 2.31%. The governor has said that number will fluctuate as more testing is done. He has said state restrictions can be put back into place if the positive case rate goes above 3%.
Governor Justice continues to do daily broadcasted briefings about new state regulations and activities related to curbing the spread of COVID-19. State Executive Orders and updates can be found at https://governor.wv.gov/Pages/default.aspx.