West Virginia gathering limits increase; festivals set to re-open with restrictions

Gov. Jim Justice prepares for Thursday’s coronavirus briefing. (Photo courtesy of the WV Governor’s Office)

CHARLESTON — Coronavirus social distancing guidelines that limited group gatherings to 25 are now lifted with guidance forthcoming for the restart of fairs and festivals starting in July.

Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday that group gatherings can increase from 25 to 100 people starting at midnight. Justice issued an executive order March 23 limiting gatherings of people to 10, with counties with surges in cases later limited to gatherings no larger than five people. Those restrictions were lifted at the end of April with Justice’s reopening plan.

“Our medical experts have advised me this is a safe decision and we can go forward with this,” Justice said. “We will continue to watch our numbers just like we do every day to make sure we keep you as safe as we possibly can while enabling you to try to go about your life as close as a normal way as we can.”

As of Thursday morning, there were 2,092 cumulative cases of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19. The number of active cases — a total of people either self-quarantined at home due to testing positive or hospitalizations for severe symptoms — was 615. Positive cases in Berkeley and Jefferson counties make up more than 30 percent of the state’s total active cases. Spikes in cases on May 22 and May 26 were due to 119 inmates at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County.

However, in the remainder of the state, cases have trended downward. Both the daily percent of positive cases and the cumulative percent of positive cases have come down. The cumulative percentage as of Thursday morning was 1.97 percent, while the daily percentage was .94 percent. According to Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar, West Virginia’s R0 number — the rate at which one person can infect one or more people — was going back down.

“Our internal number for the state of West Virginia by our calculations is .86 today,” Marsh said. “We have done great as a state and we’ve all said that…we have really articulated how we can keep this R-value…down as we did in the first phase of our approach to the COVID-19 virus by doing simple things. That’s paying attention to your distance. That’s really trying to wear a mask when you’re around other people.”

Justice also said that fairs and festivals can restart July 1. Justice said fairs and festivals will have to follow strict guidance on how to hold events. That guidance will be available today at governor.wv.gov.

“There will be very strict guidelines they must follow,” Justice said. “We’re trying to work it out where the fairs and festivals will be able to have their fairs and festivals, but we have got to have some level of relatively strict guidelines. We might be able to reduce those as we go forward, but for what we know right now, these are the guidelines you have to initiate.”

As part of week six of Justice’s West Virginia Strong — The Comeback reopening plan, movie theaters and the state’s four casinos can open. Starting Monday, low-contact outdoor youth sports can start, as well as summer training for athletics sanctioned by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, band camps, little league sports practices and all remaining adult sports facilities. Guidance for these activities is available on the governor’s website.

“We again ask you to abide by that guidance to protect our people and to protect everyone,” Justice said. “Please do that.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.


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