West Virginia governor issues ‘stay-at-home’ as virus grows
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Monday issued a statewide stay-home directive and ordered nonessential businesses to close as confirmed coronavirus cases reached at least 20.
The order, which allows people to go out for food, medicine and other important items, goes into effect at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Justice said in a news conference. He didn’t set an end date.
“A stay-at-home order is not martial law,” the Republican governor said. “It’s not we’re shutting down the state borders. It’s not we’re closing down bridges and roads.”
“Let me tell you what it is: You can leave your home to perform or receive essential services, or if you work at an essential service business. It means you can leave to obtain food. It means you can do outdoor activities.”
Essential businesses include grocery stores, banks, gas stations, hospitals and pharmacies, according to a notice posted on the state health department website. Nonessential establishments include gyms, dine-in restaurants and bars. The full executive order is available online.
West Virginia health officials said at least 20 people have tested positive for the virus, with 610 negatives. Justice said at least one positive case was caused by community spread, rather than from someone traveling in and out of the state.
As recently as Saturday, Justice declined to order a broad lockdown similar to those in New York, California and Illinois. In a Sunday letter, Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin and Kanawha County Commissioners Kent Carper, Henry C. Shores and Ben Salango urged the governor to issue a mandatory stay-in-place order for the state.
“A state mandated stay-in-place order would provide valuable time for our health care system to prepare for the inevitable spike in the number of COVID-19 infected patients,” the letter read.
Kanawha County Schools, the state’s largest school district, said it would start delivering multiple days-worth of food to students at bus stops on Wednesday. It had previously announced it was discontinuing the service because some employees were not showing up to work over fears about the coronavirus.
Justice has previously issued a state of emergency and ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, casinos, gyms, health clubs, recreation centers, barbershops, nail salons and hair salons. He has also closed lodges and the famous Hatfield–McCoy Trails. Schools are shuttered until at least March 27.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has postponed most court hearings to April 10, declaring a judicial emergency. The administrative order allows for so-called emergency proceedings such as initial criminal appearances, coronavirus-related matters and child abuse cases to he held, preferably through video conference or telephone. A complete list of the hearings allowed to go forward is available on the court’s website.
The Supreme Court’s announcement came after it said a judicial employee who works in Kanawha County tested positive for the virus and has been hospitalized.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority recover in several weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness, including pneumonia.