by Kate Shunney
As of Saturday, February 20, West Virginia’s restaurants saw their seating capacity triple under a new .
Gov. Justice announced the change on Friday during his daily press conference relating to COVID-19 and other state matters.
Under the new order, food establishments can now use 75% of their seating capacity to serve customers as long as space allows them to provide adequate social distance between groups. For nearly a year, restaurants’ seating was restricted to 25% and then 50% of their usual capacity, calculated by square footage and the spacing of seats and tables.
Friday’s order also raised the state’s rules about social gathering sizes, saying that all strictly social events can have up to 75 people. Under state rules, social gatherings have officially been restricted to 25 people.
Governor Justice’s order says that West Virginia’s public health experts have said the moves to loosen the restrictions are “appropriate at this time.”
The move comes as nearly half of West Virginia counties have moved into the “green” category of COVID-19 infection rates. Infection rates have dropped to their lowest rates in months for the state. On Monday, Morgan County was in “gold” status – two steps above green. Neighboring Hampshire and Berkeley County are in “orange” status.
Reopening businesses and lifting restrictions on customer capacity are part of the West Virginia Strong “Comeback Plan,” put in place in April of 2020. That plan tied public health data to a phased reopening of statewide businesses that have been limited or shut down by the COVID-19 state of emergency. Many businesses in the state have continued to operate in full capacity because they are considered “essential” under state orders.
State officials said businesses must still follow all safety guidelines, including mandatory face coverings inside and social distancing.