Dr. Clay Marsh / Photo courtesy W.Va. Governor's Office

Gov. Justice urges continued caution amid loosened restrictions; Dr. Clay Marsh discusses COVID variant

CHARLESTON — Gov. Justice took time to remind West Virginians of his decision last week to loosen several COVID-19 restrictions through a series of executive orders.

The executive orders include:

  • Executive Order 5-21, clarifying the existing prohibition on live indoor music performances.
  • Executive Order 6-21, increasing the capacity limit for all restaurants and bars to 75 percent seating capacity while maintaining social distancing; and raising the social gathering limit to 75 people.
  • Executive Order 7-21, clarifying that all Pre-K-8 students in all counties statewide should be in school.

Additionally, at the direction of Gov. Justice, the DHHR has amended its rules on capacity limitations for small businesses, retail stores, and grocery stores. The Governor also asked the WVSSAC to work with all county school boards to ensure they have occupancy rules or attendance limitations for winter sports.

All of these updates require individuals and businesses to continue following all applicable safety guidelines including, but not limited to, mandatory face coverings and social distancing.

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These decisions were made after numerous discussions with members of the West Virginia pandemic response leadership team and other state leaders regarding the decreasing number of COVID-19 cases and the increasing number of vaccinated West Virginians. However, Gov. Justice pointed out today that, if numbers would begin to take a turn for the worse, some or all of these restrictions could potentially be reestablished.

“We’ve got to be fluid in what we do, we’ve got to be able to pivot,” Gov. Justice said. “If things slide back, we may very well have to reinstate restrictions.”

Additionally, Gov. Justice discussed the DHHR’s announcement Friday evening that three cases of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 – more commonly referred to as the “UK variant” – have been detected in North Central West Virginia.

Nearly every state in the country, including all of West Virginia’s bordering states, have now reported cases of the UK variant, with a total of over 1,500 such cases identified nationwide to date.

The DHHR collaborated with West Virginia University and Marshall University to conduct whole genome sequencing which is used to detect this variant. Using an automated system and next generation sequencing, this team will analyze hundreds of samples per week from across the state to detect new variants that arrive from outside or emerge in the state.

“Everybody is on this, working it in every way,” Gov. Justice said.

State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh also provided his insight on the discovery of the new variant in West Virginia.

“The good news about the United Kingdom variant is the fact that the vaccines we have appear to be effective against it,” Dr. Marsh said. “We know that masks and physical distancing work just as well to reduce the spread of this variant as they do for other forms of COVID-19, and it is also good news that we have been able to put together a team that has worked together to facilitate and help us have the ability to do whole genome sequencing on this virus.

“This collaboration is really a demonstration of the great talent we have in the state – the fact that we are scrappy and resilient and have put together the capabilities to do much for ourselves,” Dr. Marsh continued. “Having this capability now in West Virginia will facilitate and allow us to track very closely any new outbreaks…to be able to survey and surveil the stage as far as positive tests so that we can follow that very closely and also be able to help the CDC with the identification of these types of viruses that might occur in West Virginia.”

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