CHARLESTON – Governor Jim Justice on Friday said following the health care sector and elective surgical procedures, his next priority is to reopen childcare centers.
During his daily COVID-19 press briefing, Justice said he wanted to reopen daycares “almost immediately” and “as quick as we possibly can.” The governor laid out a tentative sequence in which he wants to reopen the state, saying he first wants the health care sector to go back to work followed by daycare centers and then potentially restaurants with a number of restrictions.
“Next week, we’ll get our elective (surgical) procedures up and running, and we’ll be able to roll out and go to work with our hospitals, and that, in itself, is going to be a major move from the standpoint of the economics of the state,” Justice said. “The next component to that is just this: We want to get all of our daycare facilities open.”
The governor said that’s the next necessary step because many health care workers won’t be able to return to work until they have childcare. And while state officials are still working out the precautionary measures that will be taken surrounding reopening daycare centers, it’s likely every employee will be tested for COVID-19, Justice added.
“To do that, we’re going to make it mandatory that there be testing of all the daycare staff so that when you bring your children there, that you can feel safe doing that,” he said, “and we’re going to have ongoing testing of the daycare staff.”
Justice said state health officials were currently trying to figure out how they could prevent children who might be infected with COVID-19 from spreading the virus.
“Right now, we’re trying to go through the wickets to see what we can legally do, and we’re not sure if it’s going to be taking temperatures of the kids and parents,” he said. “We’re not sure, but we’ll get to that.”
Justice also said he was contemplating clearing the way for restaurants and eateries to open back up with a number of restrictions in place and hinted that outdoor dining might initially be the best-case scenario.
The governor said that in seven to 14 days, the state would be rolling out protocols to safeguard the health of restaurant employees and guests.
“This is just an 80,000-foot flyby, but limiting restaurants’ capacity to 50 percent, the cleaning of surfaces, temperature checks for employees and all kinds of masks … [those are] the things we’re looking at, but they’re still a ways away,” Justice said.
However, the governor said the state would move forward with prudence, calling the state of Georgia’s decision to open hair salons and bowling alleys Friday “absurd.”
“We will not put you back to work or [open] up places that will expose you if we’re not prepared on the backside with the necessary equipment from testing to hospital beds,” Justice said. “There’s no way on this Earth that I am doing to expose you unduly.”
Justice said despite the presence of relatively few cases of coronavirus and related death in West Virginia, the Mountain State remains “the highest risk state of all” due to the number of people who have chronic health conditions and are overweight.
“We’re within a rock’s throw of two-thirds of the country’s population, so West Virginia is exposed,” he said. “The net of this whole thing is just this: We are going to move you along as best as we possibly can in as safe a manner as we possibly can.
“We’ve pitched almost a perfect game,” he added. “You don’t want to blow it up now and have it blow up around our feet.”
Justice made several other announcements Friday, including the lifting of an executive order calling for more stringent social distancing regulations in Morgan County. He also said a correctional officer in the state prison system had tested positive for COVID-19 but has been self-quarantined since April 15.
“His wife had been exposed to the virus, but he was responsible and immediately self-quarantined, so the DHHR has determined that no further action at the facility needs to be taken as a result of the officer’s responsible actions.”