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Efforts to limit out-of-state travelers raise concerns

Cutline: Gov. Jim Justice issued an executive order Monday for out-of-state travelers to self-quarantine. (Photo Courtesy/WV Governor’s Office)

CHARLESTON — An executive order requiring all out-of-state visitors from coronavirus hotspots in the U.S. and around the world to self-quarantine after entering West Virginia is raising some eyebrows and questions.

Gov. Jim Justice and state officials held an abbreviated virtual press briefing Tuesday afternoon, limiting questions to just a handful of reporters.

Justice issued an executive order Monday ordering out-of-state visitors from Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, as well as international visitors from China and Italy, to self-quarantine for 14 days. Justice ordered the West Virginia State Police to monitor travel into the state. Those who refuse to self-quarantine could be charged with misdemeanor obstruction with fines and possible jail time.

On Tuesday, Justice signed an additional executive order closing private campgrounds for new arrivals after previously closing state campgrounds, cabins and lodges. The order, which went into effect at midnight, closes all private campgrounds in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus and to discourage out-of-state travelers from coronavirus hotspots from setting up camp. The order only applies to new arrivals, with current campers allowed to remain.

“If you’re in a private campground as a new arrival, we’re shutting it down,” Justice said. “We’re doing it in an effort to try to protect us as West Virginians from someone coming in from another state and basically contaminating and infecting thousands.”

The West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement decrying the executive order. The organization said that the order didn’t give enough notice, provided no due process to appeal the self-quarantine and was overly broad on what constitutes an essential business for those traveling to West Virginia for work.

“The government can restrict travel during an emergency, but it must ensure that any prohibitions are no more restrictive than necessary,” according to the ACLU statement. “Public officials must provide adequate notice of the restrictions and provide a hearing process that allows individuals who are impacted by such policies a fair opportunity to explain why they should not be subjected to the policy. And in no case may an executive order override the Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable search and seizure.”

Justice, responding Tuesday afternoon, said he understood the concerns raised by the ACLU, but he was going to err on the side of protecting the public.

“We really want to be respectful of constitutional rights, but people are dying all over this country right and left,” Justice said. “I’m trying to do everything I possibly can to protect our people. I’m going to do that, and I’m going to do that to the fullest extent that I can possibly do it.”

Now with all public and private campgrounds closed, attention is turning to the state’s hotels and motels, which are considered essential businesses in the executive order issued by Justice last week.

Carol Fulks, executive director of the West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association, said hotels and motels are preparing for what to do should out-of-state visitors from the states and regions listed by Justice book rooms at the hotels/motels.

“We have advised those with concerns to post the governor’s executive order on their doors and at their registration desks,” Fulks said. “We have contacted (Tourism Commissioner Chelsea) Ruby and we are working together to get the hoteliers answers. We do not foresee the hotels being removed from the essential lists as there are many health care, commerce and other workers using the hotels.”

Justice’s executive order also suspends all elective medical procedures and surgeries for the duration of the state of emergency. Justice said the move would help conserve the supply of personal protective equipment for use in coronavirus cases. Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, said that the state received a shipment of personal protective equipment from the national stockpile which would be distributed in the next 24 hours.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, there are now 17 new cases of the coronavirus – or COVID-19 – in the state since Monday evening, bring the total of positive cases to 162 and the total of negative cases to 3,981. The National Guard is assisting the DHHR lab and the Bureau of Public Health in turning around test results more quickly and helping conduct investigations into positive cases.

“Our efforts in supporting…data analytics continues to move forward, as does our efforts to provide support to the epidemiology teams,” Hoyer said.

“We have teams working regionally with local health departments in collaboration with National Guard support,” said Dr. Cathy Slemp, state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health. “We’re doing case and outbreak investigation at the community level. That’s moving forward well.”

According to Slemp, there are now 184 testing locations identified across the state for coronavirus testing. DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said that West Virginia has received its 1135 waiver from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which will allow for more flexibility and health care offerings and help ease regulations.

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