Governor issues tighter restrictions for Eastern Panhandle amid rise in COVID cases

Businesses must direct employees to work from home, no gatherings of more than five people permitted, National Guard to assist counties

by Kate Shunney

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice on 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 takes effect at 12 a.m. on Saturday, April 4.

Under the new order, essential businesses that continue to operate in  Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties must take further steps to limit direct contact between individuals at those businesses. Businesses that are still open to the public must “further limit the number of employees and members of the public entering and exiting their premises” under the order. 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 regulate further aspects of public locations and interactions.

“[T]hese additional measures are necessary because of the  number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the Eastern Panhandle at this time and the propensity of  the COVID-19 virus to spread via personal interactions,” the governor’s order states. Read it here: Eastern Panhandle Executive Order April 3, 2020

At a press conference on Friday, state officials said the most recent concentration of the virus was detected in the Eastern Panhandle, with a suspected 60 cases identified between Berkeley and Jefferson counties. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in West Virginia was in Jefferson County.

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.

Morgan County Emergency Management officials announced on social media on Thursday that the county had its second confirmed COVID-19 case. The state’s official DHHR tracking website had not adjusted Morgan County’s case report beyond the first case confirmed last Sunday.

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.

He continues to recommend 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.

The coronavirus is easily spread through respiratory droplets. The virus can cause mild to severe respiratory illness. 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 are asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days away from family members and others, 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 can be reached at 1-800-877-4304.