County issues Emergency Order to restrict social contact

“Take this seriously,” commissioner says of county order


Morgan County Courthouse

Morgan County Commissioners on Tuesday approved and signed an Emergency Order to locally impose rules meant to help stem the spread of the highly-contagious coronavirus between county residents.

The order passed 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.

Morgan County has reported four state-confirmed cases of the disease.

As of Wednesday, April 8, there are 66 confirmed COVID-19 cases in neighboring Berkeley County, one in Hampshire County to the west, 57 cases in Washington County, Md. to the north and 46 cases in Frederick County, Va. to the south.

Many Morgan County residents 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. In small gatherings, individuals should still 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.

Limit customers

Other Morgan County businesses that remain open to sell food, gas, medicine or offer other essential services must limit the number of people inside their doors to reduce person-to-person contact.

The Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department protocols for operating a public business in the times of COVID-19 dictate that the number of people inside a business is limited by the square footage of that establishment.

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 being used by customers and even limit the number of parking spaces to keep customer numbers within the acceptable range, the order says. Businesses must also 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.

The order remains in effect until it is lifted.

Commissioners unanimously approved the order in a special meeting held at the Morgan County Courthouse and live streamed on social media.

The order was signed by Dr. Kevin McLaughlin, the deputy health officer for the Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department. McLaughlin is a local physician.

“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.”

Morgan County’s Health Department can be reached at 304-258-1513. The Morgan County Commission can be reached at 304-258-8540. The order can also be found on the county’s website