Dave Mistich Published

Gov. Justice Issues Executive Order For 3 Eastern Panhandle Counties After COVID-19 Cluster Found


West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has issued an executive order specific to three Eastern Panhandle counties following the discovery of a cluster of confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The governor announced the new regulations in a news release issued Friday evening. 

The directive — specific to Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan Counties — limits group gatherings to five people, directs all businesses to require employees to work from home as much as possible and calls on local health departments to establish a maximum occupancy and proper social distance for all essential businesses.

Those health departments will be allowed to take action to enforce regulations under the governor’s order. 

The West Virginia National Guard has been directed to provide logistical support and services to county agencies. State Police have also been directed to assist with the enforcement of local county orders. 

Friday’s executive order comes hours after a news conference in which Justice and state health officials announced the discovery a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the Eastern Panhandle. Justice and state health officials provided little detail about the cluster. 

The order is in addition to a statewide stay at home directive that was issued Tuesday, March 24.  

Berkeley County Health Department administrator Bill Kearns told West Virginia Public Broadcasting Friday evening that the county is reporting 45 confirmed cases of the virus and that the number is “rapidly increasing” day to day. 

“In Berkeley County within the last week, I would say we’re seeing an estimate of probably about between 20 to 30 percent increase each day,” Kerns added. 

As of Friday, DHHR is reporting 37 cases in the county — but has said they are now updating their count daily at 10 a.m.

Kerns said he welcomes the executive order and the help from state agencies. He said there have been growing concerns in the area about whether some businesses are operating when they shouldn’t be.

“We’ve had some complaints from people within the community about some establishments are closed but not others,” Kearns said. “Those establishments are feeling that they’re essential — such as department stores. So certainly we’re going to be looking at those as to whether they actually are truly essential services within the counties and what direction we need to go.” 

Kearns said local officials will also be looking closely at how to implement maximum occupancies for each business that is deemed essential.

While Justice and other officials were not specific earlier Friday on the exact location of the new outbreak, the governor said 60 positive cases had been confirmed between Berkeley and Jefferson counties. 

State health officer Dr. Cathy Slemp said the growing numbers in the Eastern Panhandle are not tied to “one facility or entity” and that the spread of the virus is throughout that region of the state. 

But in an email to staff and parents of school children of Berkeley County Schools dated Wednesday, April 1, Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy relayed information from the Berkeley-Morgan County Board of Health that indicates that the coronavirus has been detected in some residents associated with the local school system.

“COVID-19 is present in Berkeley County with a rapid daily increase in the number of people with this infection,” Berkeley County health officer Dr. Terrence Reidy wrote. “Infection has been identified in a few individuals who are associated with the school system. This has been expected since students, employees and volunteers are as likely as everyone else to be infected.”

It is unclear to what degree identified positive cases in the school system have affected the cluster and the spread of the virus.

Justice also announced Friday evening that President Donald Trump has granted West Virginia a federal disaster declaration. 

The declaration makes available funding to the state and eligible local governments, as well as certain private non-profit organizations. The funding would provide for emergency protective measures including direct federal assistance in all areas of West Virginia impacted by COVID-19.