West Virginia state officials say the state will proceed with its reopening plans, with the bulk of all retail stores set to open their doors beginning Thursday, May 21.
Nearly all retail businesses will reopen to the public including specialty big box retailers such as sporting and home good stores. Malls will remain closed, but anchor stores with external entrances can reopen. Indoor dining at restaurants can resume at 50 percent capacity.
According to updated guidance documents, service at the bar will remain unavailable, however tables in “bar areas” may be used for seating. Floor plans will need to be reconfigured to allow at least six feet of separation between tables both for indoor and outdoor seating.
Gov. Jim Justice also announced that campgrounds at state parks will reopen May 21, while cabins and lodges will reopen to in-state residents beginning on May 26.
The push comes ahead of the upcoming Memorial Day three-day weekend, which typically signals the start of the summer season.
“I’d always be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that I’m concerned,” said Justice, during his daily virtual press briefing Monday. “I’m going to stay concerned every day. The numbers all tell us that we can do this … and we’re going to monitor and stay on top of it in every way we possibly can.”
Justice reiterated West Virginia’s numbers continue to show the state’s fight against the virus is trending in the positive direction. The cumulative percentage of positive cases is hovering just above 2 percent, according to data collected by the state Department of Health and Human Resources. West Virginia has reported 54 deaths due to COVID-19, significantly lower than its neighboring states.
Despite the optimism, Justice said some sectors, including the state’s whitewater rafting industry, are not ready to open up.
“I want this industry open and running,” Justice said. “But the health experts, and they’re right, the health experts are really concerned.”
Officials, including Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh, continue to warn West Virginians must follow the state’s safer at home order — which urges anyone who can stay home to do so — and to follow social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing best practices.
“So, getting people back to work, to purpose, to connection, to community is very important, but this is an extraordinary time,” Marsh said. “And we know that we have to do that safely.”
State Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp also noted the state is ramping up testing for the coronavirus, making it available for anyone showing symptoms. She said testing is planned for some residents showing no symptoms in high-risk settings such as nursing homes, long-term care facilities and among the state’s African American population. Slemp further noted testing has been completed at all of the state’s 123 nursing homes, with 70 percent reporting no cases of COVID-19.