By Sarah Richardson
Governor Jim Justice has announced a reopening plan for the state this week, scheduled in six phases. Titled “West Virginia Strong – The Comeback,” the first phase of the plan began Thursday, Apr. 30, and provided the option for facilities regulated by licensing boards to reopen if they so choose.
Such businesses include acupuncture professionals, chiropractors, counselors, dentists, dietitians, hearing aid dealers and fitters, licensed practical nurses, medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals, doctors of medicine, occupational therapists, optometrists, pharmacists, physical therapists, psychologists, registered professional nurses, respiratory professionals, social workers, and speech language pathologists.
Daycare services will also be permitted to resume operations, provided that enhanced testing procedures are instilled.
“We have witnessed a miracle and the miracle has been you, West Virginians. You’ve listened, you’ve responded, you’ve kept your distance, you’ve absolutely pushed all the right buttons as we’ve gone along, and you’ve produced numbers that are unprecedented,” Gov. Justice said. “Now we’ve got to bring our state back to life.”
On Wednesday, the day Justice announced comeback plan, the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) reported 1,109 positive tests throughout the state and 40 deaths. Both numbers rose the next day, to 1,118 cases and 41 deaths.
Justice explained the reopening process went into action because during a three-day observation period the statewide cumulative percent of positive test results remained below 3 percent. If West Virginia’s number of positive COVID-19 cases rises above the three percent threshold, the schedule of reopenings may be slowed, stopped, or reversed.
“We’re going now to another level,” Justice said. “We can’t sit back and not reopen. We can’t sit on our hands and just dwindle away because bad things will happen then as well.”
The “Week Two” reopening phase is set to begin on Monday, May 4. This will permit small businesses with 10 or fewer employees, restaurants with takeaway service or outdoor dining options, religious entities, funeral homes, and professional service businesses such as hair salons, nail salons, barbershops, and pet grooming to resume services if they so choose.
According to the governor’s website, “All businesses included in the Week 2 phase of reopenings will be required to operate with physical distancing measures in effect. Businesses will also be required to implement efforts to increase sanitation and the use of face coverings.”
The guidelines go on to say, “Several additional types of businesses will be permitted to reopen from Weeks 3-6. The opening schedule for these businesses will be based upon the recommendations of state medical experts and upon testing data available at that time.
These businesses include office/government buildings, specialty retail stores, parks and/or restrooms and facilities at parks, gyms, fitness centers, recreation centers, dine-in restaurants, hotels, casinos, spas/massage establishments, and other businesses.
The Governor’s Office will announce which of these businesses will be able to reopen at least one week in advance of its respective reopening date. Additional guidance on reopening will be made available for each of these businesses at that time.”
West Virginians should continue to practice social distancing, maintaining at least six feet of separation between each other. Additionally, people are encouraged to continue wearing face coverings in public where other physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain.