West Virginia under State of Emergency
CHARLESTON – During a live press conference on Monday, Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for the entire state, due to the coronavirus.
The first confirmed coronavirus case was announced the following day.
Attempting to “err way, way, way to the safe side,” Justice said schools will remain closed through March 27, when the situation will be re-evaluated. He praised the efforts of service personnel around the state for ensuring that students received food Monday, a plan which will continue statewide so that students who would not otherwise have meals won’t suffer.
A previous state of preparedness signed by Justice on March 4 allowed the West Virginia National Guard and other emergency agencies to begin preliminary mobilization. The state of emergency, as explained Monday, will allow state agencies and departments to waive various regulations and requirements regarding personnel needs and purchasing.
Justice stressed that above all, West Virginians should remain calm and practice common sense.
“Use the best hygiene possible,” Justice said. “And use good judgment.”
Justice asked individuals to follow the recommended guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, which state that any gathering of more than 50 should be postponed or canceled for the next eight weeks.
During Justice’s conference, President Donald Trump also addressed the nation, saying the virus scare is far from over. Trump urged people not to gather in groups of more than 10, significantly lowered from the previous recommendation of 50.
While the CDC has encouraged people in the high-risk category to stock up on supplies and medications and to avoid large crowds, there has not been a national shut down forcing people to self-quarantine.
Justice said he has no intention in forcing the closure of businesses, such as restaurants and bars, but it may happen.
“I don’t think yet it’s necessary,” but it may come to that,” Justice said, mid-day on Monday.
However, in an interview later Monday evening, Justice reconsidered, saying the closures could come as early as Tuesday. On Tuesday evening, Justice announced the closure of all restaurants, casinos and bars by that evening at midnight, mentioning that restaurants could still sell take-out food from their locations.
Also in attendance at Justice’s press conference was Dr. Cathy Slemp, the state health officer and the commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health. Slemp commented on testing procedures, saying testing within the state will increase moving forward.
“We would love to test everyone,” Slemp said. “But right now, the focus is on those who are seriously ill in the hospital and those who have a high risk of exposure. We are increasing, but really, currently I have the ability to do maybe 500 people. But, in reality, none of it is enough.”
Slemp said more testing and social distancing is what is important. Justice agreed, encouraging West Virginians to “take care of your family. Use extra caution on how to handle your own health habits.”
“We are an elderly population,” Justice said. “We are working to address this testing, but we can’t stop living.”