W.Va. stay-home order starts Tuesday amid virus concerns

Published: Mar. 24, 2020 at 3:20 PM EDT
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Stay home, West Virginia.

That's the message from Gov. Jim Justice as his order for residents to stay inside and close all nonessential businesses takes effect Tuesday night to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The Republican's executive order goes into effect at 8 p.m. It says people can leave their homes for food, medicine and other essential items. Businesses deemed essential — hospitals, take-away or delivery restaurants, banks and grocery stores — can stay open, while nonessential places such as gyms or theaters must close.

“The intent of this order is to ensure that the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible, while enabling essential services to continue, to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the greatest extent possible,” the order reads.

At least 20 people in West Virginia have tested positive for the virus, state health officials said. There have been 610 negative tests.

Justice had declined to order this kind of broad lockdown during a rambling statewide address Saturday, later saying health experts did not feel it was necessary at the time. He said that changed, and one of the tipping points was the report of a virus case caused by community spread, rather than from travel. He did not set an end date on the order.

The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, and the overwhelming majority recover. But it is highly contagious, and can be deadly, particularly among the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Severe cases often need respirators to breathe, stressing the health care system's capacity to respond.

“We are facing a unique and constantly-changing challenge and we must continue to evaluate the circumstances and adjust quickly to stay ahead of the curve,” Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin and Kanawha County Commissioners Kent Carper, Ben Salango and Hoppy Shores said in a joint statement after the governor's order was announced Monday. The group had previously urged the governor to issue a stay-home directive.

States around the country have taken similar measures.

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 governor, a billionaire with no previous political experience, has been criticized for sending mixed messages on the virus. He has issued dire warnings about the state's high rate of elderly residents and people with existing health problems, while also wondering why people were looking to him for guidance. At one point, when the world's health experts were telling people to avoid crowded spaces, Justice told West Virginians that “if you want to go to Bob Evans and eat, go to Bob Evans and eat.”

Justice is set to hold another news briefing Tuesday afternoon.