Recording three consecutive days with a positive test rate of less than 3 percent, Governor Jim Justice has pronounced West Virginia Strong – The Comeback underway.
Justice, backed by a team of health care and medical professionals, made the decision to begin allowing some businesses to reopen when the state maintained a certain metric. “We will start to open things when we have three consecutive days of under 3 percent,” he said during his daily briefing on Monday, April 27.
As of April 30, that metric was reached.
The governor recommended opening specific businesses weekly, to deter crowds from forming and to allow businesses to ramp up to full operations.
During Week #1 – April 27 – May 1
•Hospitals and surgical centers may begin scheduling outpatient surgeries. Those facilities must apply to the state for permission to open based on a criteria of procedures in place.
•Primary health care facilities,
•Physical and occupational therapy facilities
•Mental health offices may open.
In conjunction, day care facilities can begin to open, with testing of staff a prerequisite.
During Week #2 – May 4 – 8,
•Small businesses – those with 10 employees or less
•Professional services such as hair and nail salons, barbershops, pet grooming
•Restaurants may open for outdoor dining
•Church and funerals may open with limited attendance.
During Week #3 – May 11 – 15
•Gyms, fitness and recreation centers.
The governor said no timeline exists for the return of visitation to nursing homes, sporting events, concerts and gatherings of more than 25 people.
A list of guidelines specific to the industry will be released a week in advance of the openings. Recommendations for the opening of hair and nail salons, restaurants for outside dining and small businesses were released last week.
Social distancing measures are to remain in place. Frequent hand-washing is recommended. A distance of six feet should be maintained between people in public. Masks are recommended for anyone venturing outside their homes. Work from home when possible.
To facilitate “The Comeback,” Justice said there would be expanded testing capabilities, increased supply of PPE (personal protective equipment), and additional contact tracing capability.
Contact tracing is identifying the people who have come in contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Justice made it clear, businesses are not being mandated to open. “They are allowed to open, but not required,” he said.
Justice was adamant that a setback could slow or stop the reopening.
“Three things could put the brakes on this,” he said. “An unexpected increase in hospitalizations as the result of COVID-19, a significant community outbreak or our percentage of positives to tests goes above the 3 percent.”
A group of legislators, who were unaware of “The Comeback” until the Governor’s press conference on Monday, expressed concerns in the form of a letter. While they agreed, the state must re-open at some point, “Many of us have received concerns from our (and your) constituents about how this will be safely accomplished,” the letter states.
Several specific areas of concern were enumerated, including what to do about “hot spot” communities, which may be more dangerous; what is the plan of action if the percentage of positives goes above the 3 percent; why are the state experts using cumulative data instead of most recent data; what is the plan to reopen tourism; are there adequate testing and PPE supplies; and what to do about those West Virginians who have lost their health insurance because of the pandemic.
The letter was signed by House Minority Leader Tim Miley and 29 delegates including Del. Isaac Sponaugle (D-55).
In his press briefing on Thursday, April 30, Justice responded to the question of cumulative data vs. most recent data by reviewing the most recent tests to positives results.
“Our cumulative average is 2.5 percent,” Justice said. “Over the past five days we have had positives vs tests as follows:
•April 25 – 1.5 percent;
•April 26 – 2.7 percent;
•April 27 – 2.3 percent;
•April 28 – 1.7 percent;
•April 29 – 1.3 percent
“We are well below any of our surrounding states, with the next lowest being Kentucky at 8.35 percent and the national average at 17.1 percent.”
Justice also released “Safe At Home” recommendations, and lifted his “Stay At Home” mandated. “This encourages people to stay at home, but it doesn’t mandate it,” he said.
Justice continued to encourage West Virginians to work from home, if possible, maintain a six-foot distance between people, only travel when necessary and not gather in groups of more than 10 people.