West Virginia governor says the National Guard could be used to help stem outbreak in Eastern Panhandle

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice sounded a warning after the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 spiked in the Eastern Panhandle on Friday.

“We’ve got an outbreak over in the Eastern Panhandle,” Justice said in his daily press conference Friday. “If it comes to the point where we need to send the National Guard in there to try in every way to get a better handle on it, we might need to put more stringent guidelines on essential vs non-essential [activities]. We need to contain this there.”

Justice said there are now 60-plus known cases in the panhandle and indicated the state may need to enact tougher rules to keep people home.

“We’ve not probably done that to the level we need to do that,” Justice said. “We’re working has hard as we possibly can to stay on an honor-type system.”

He also called on businesses to follow the health guidelines, singling out Hobby Lobby.

“We’ve had a Hobby Lobby deal, and that was a potential problem,” Justice said.

Major General James Hoyer said the West Virginia National Guard would provide “surge capacity,” in the panhandle, including supplying additional equipment and public health support. He noted that does not include law enforcement duties.

Despite the localized outbreak, the governor said the relatively low number of known cases reported throughout West Virginia remains a spot of optimism.

“We’re trending in the right way, expect now we’ve got a hot spot in the Eastern Panhandle,” Justice said. “We have been making progress in keeping the curve where we want the curve to be.”

Justice called on all small businesses to apply for loans under the SBA’s new Payroll Protection Program, which offers forgivable loans to cover up to eight weeks of payroll costs for small businesses.

“I encourage everyone to apply,” Justice said. “We need to be funneling money to our people and getting paychecks to them.”

Finally, he sought to clamp down on rumors about the virus.

“State Police are not stopping vehicles at our border,” Justice said. “The West Virginia National Guard is not being used to enforce a lockdown. There is no curfew. There is no national quarantine. It is extremely important you follow the guidelines and stay home… But these rumors, please stop them. Please.”

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