CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice joined West Virginia health leaders and other officials yesterday for his latest daily press briefing regarding the State’s COVID-19 response.
FAIRS AND FESTIVALS TO RESUME ON JULY 1
On Thursday, Gov. Justice announced that fairs and festivals are permitted to resume on July 1, provided that all guidelines are followed to help keep West Virginians as safe as possible.
“We understand the important role that fairs and festivals play in West Virginia communities but we have to have some level of strict guidelines in place,” Gov. Justice said. “Those guidelines may be reduced at a later time, but for now we have to do everything in our power to hold these events as safely as we possibly can.”
Guidance will be provided on The Comeback page of the Governor’s website as soon as possible.
PUBLIC GATHERINGS TO INCREASE FROM 25 TO 100 INDIVIDUALS
Also on Thursday, Gov. Justice announced that public gatherings will be permitted to increase from 25 to 100 individuals effective at 12 a.m. on June 5, 2020.
“Our medical experts have advised that we can go forward with this action,” Gov. Justice said. “We will continue watching those numbers closely but we want people to go about their lives as normally and safely as they possibly can.”
Safe social distancing in public settings is still strongly encouraged.
Gov. Justice issued an Executive Order today formally allowing for the increase in public gathering size.
CASINOS AND MOVIE THEATERS PERMITTED TO REOPEN
The executive order Gov. Justice issued today also formally allows casinos and movie theaters to reopen on June 5.
“We ask that you abide by the guidelines in place when it comes to reopening,” Gov. Justice said. “We want to continue to allow businesses to reopen and in order to do that we have to make sure that safety is a top priority for everyone.”
Both casinos and movie theaters must ensure that proper social distancing and hygiene practices are maintained.
GOV. JUSTICE REMOVES HESS FROM STATE FIRE COMMISSION
Gov. Justice announced Thursday that he has issued a letter removing Martin Hess from the West Virginia State Fire Commission.
This decision comes after the Governor was made aware of multiple social media posts Mr. Hess made recently which are inappropriate and inflammatory.
“I will not tolerate behavior like this from anyone representing the State of West Virginia,” Gov. Justice said in the letter.
His removal is effective immediately.
CAMPGROUND STAYS FOR OUT-OF-STATE VISITORS ADDED TO WEEK 7 REOPENINGS
On Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that private and state park campgrounds, along with state park lodges and cabins, will be allowed to reopen to out-of-state guests beginning next Wednesday, June 10, provided that all additional guidelines are followed to help keep West Virginians as safe as possible.
The Governor announced that one of the restrictions will be that out-of-state guests will be limited to stays of no longer than seven days.
“We always want people to experience all of the beauty and adventure West Virginia has to offer,” Gov. Justice said. “But we surely don’t want people coming here from out-of-state and just taking up some level of permanency in our state parks. That’s not what we’re looking for right now.”
Further guidance will be provided on The Comeback page of the Governor’s website as soon as possible.
GUIDANCE DOCUMENTS FOR LOW-CONTACT SPORTS NOW AVAILABLE
Additionally, new guidance for the resumption of low-contact sports for participants of all ages are now available online.
As previously announced by Gov. Justice, all low-contact outdoor youth sports practices can resume, with limitations, on Monday, June 8. All adult sports facilities are also permitted to reopen on June 8, provided that the safety guidelines are properly followed.
Youth sports games with spectators and all other outdoor sporting events with spectators are not permitted to resume until Monday, June 22.
GUIDANCE DOCUMENTS AVAILABLE FOR BINGO HALLS
Gov. Justice also announces today that new safety guidelines for bingo halls are now also available online.
GOV. JUSTICE ANNOUNCES AWARD OF OAKWOOD ROAD PROJECT
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice took time during the briefing to announce that he has approved the award of the contract for the upcoming Oakwood Intersection Improvement Project at the intersection of Oakwood Road and U.S. 119 in Kanawha County.
The project will involve establishing a Restricted Crossing U-Turn – commonly known as an “R-CUT” – in the area to improve safety and decrease traffic light wait times.
The low bidder is Mountaineer Contractors, Inc., from Kingwood, with a bid of $5,852,067.80.
“When the Department of Transportation originally brought me the initial project design, it was estimated to cost approximately $30 million,” Gov. Justice said. “So I asked them to take a harder look at the project and they re-engineered it using cutting-edge ideas that resulted in a cost-savings of $25 million on this project.
“This is another example of the great work that our Highways workers and our Department of Transportation are doing every day,” Gov. Justice continued. “Everywhere you look, in the months to come across this state, you’ll see us fixing potholes, pulling ditches, and doing additional paving, and it will be going on in all 55 counties.”
STATEWIDE TESTING OF CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES UNDERWAY
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that his initiative to test all inmates and employees at every corrections facility in the state for COVID-19 is now underway.
The Governor reported that testing began Tuesday morning at five facilities in the northern and eastern panhandles, including three regional jails, two prisons, and two juvenile centers. More than 1,000 inmates and juveniles were tested. More than 500 employees were also tested.
In addition to its own employees, the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation is testing its contract staff as well.
“They are tracking to complete the northern panhandle today, with two additional facilities,” Gov. Justice said.
The West Virginia DCR is scheduled to test all facilities statewide by June 12. Results will be posted on Coronavirus.wv.gov.
Gov. Justice also provided an update on the condition of the inmates and staff members from Huttonsville Correctional Center and Jail who tested positive amid the recent outbreak at that facility, reporting that seven of the eight positive employees at Huttonsville have recovered, with one employee back at work. Additionally, 21 of the inmates who tested positive have since recovered.
UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS UPDATE
Acting Commissioner of WorkForce West Virginia Scott Adkins joined Gov. Justice Wednesday to provide an update on the spike in unemployment claims seen since the start of the pandemic.
Adkins reported that, in the past 10 weeks alone, WorkForce West Virginia has received a total of 250,000 unemployment claims.
“Just to put that in perspective, all of 2019, we took 46,862 claims,” Adkins said. “So, in just the past 10 weeks, we’ve taken five times more claims than we did the entire year of 2019.”
Adkins also said that WorkForce has paid out more than $701 million in unemployment benefits in the past 10 weeks.
“There’s about five percent of the 250,000 claims that have had issues that we’re having to work through and those issues must be resolved before we can issue payment.” Adkins said. “I know there’s some folks still in the system and I can assure you that the staff here at WorkForce and our partners have been working very hard and diligently to resolve all those issues.”
Adkins also added that, as the number of claims has risen dramatically over the past two-and-a-half months, so too has the amount of fraud. He encouraged any West Virginians suspicious of fraudulent activity to call 1-800-379-1032 or visit WorkForceWV.org.