West Virginia, Ohio prepare to reopen; here's what you need to know

Published: Apr. 30, 2020 at 2:03 PM EDT
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“West Virginia Strong: The Comeback.”

That's Gov. Jim Justice’s plan for re-opening the Mountain State after stay-at-home orders and other precautions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic shut down a large portion of businesses and state operations.

Justice, who said Thursday he will lift his stay-at-home order in favor of a "safer-at-home" approach - maintains the rollout will be relatively slow, as only businesses in some sectors will be permitted to re-open over the next six weeks - and that’s only if the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests remain below three percent.

The governor's plan does not require businesses to re-open by a certain date. It only gives them that option. Even hospitals and other health-care professionals have been granted some discretion about when they can restart.

“Again, we are allowing people to open, but we’re not requiring people to open,” Justice said. “We want you to use your best judgment, follow the advice of your boards or whomever it may be. But absolutely, as we re-open, we want to re-open safely, as safely as we possibly can be.”

Week One of the six-week re-opening plan begins Thursday and includes the re-introduction of elective surgeries. Hospitals will still have to follow guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also have to have adequate personal-protective equipment and a plan to follow if there is a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.

Outpatient procedures can also restart during Week One, which means primary-care physicians, dentists and other similar professionals will be permitted to open up their offices..

Starting Thursday, day-care centers will be allowed to re-open, so long as they conduct “enhanced testing” of all employees at each facility.

Small businesses with fewer than 10 employees will be allowed to re-open during Week Two, which starts on Monday, May. 4. However, they will have to continue following social-distancing guidelines. According to Justice’s plan, workers must continue to wear face coverings.

A nearly three-page pamphlet on the West Virginia governor’s website outlines additional steps businesses “should” consider taking in order to re-open.

Some of those guidelines include giving employees a health screening each day, cleaning frequently touched services and bringing employees back in phases.

Among the other small businesses, hair salons and barber shops will be allowed to open during Week Two. However, they can only serve customers by appointment, and those customers will be required to wait in their vehicles until a chair is open for them. Pet groomers will also be permitted to re-open starting May 4.

Justice said restaurants that can provide outdoor seating may begin to serve at their place of business during Week Two. The West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration is working on new guidelines for serving in expanded outdoor-seating spaces.

On Tuesday, Justice issued guidelines for restaurants that include, but are not limited to, rearranging outdoor seating so that they are separated by at least feet apart. Parties of no more than six will be allowed, and additional efforts will be made to communicate with customers on what can and cannot happen while dining at a restaurant.

Less-specific guidelines have been issued for weeks three through six.

Currently, the governor’s website says other businesses will be allowed to reopen based on state health officials' guidance in the coming weeks, but those businesses will be given a week’s notice on when they can reopen.

Should West Virginia see a surge in COVID-19 cases, re-opening could slow, stop or regress. Justice wants the state’s positive COVID-19 test rate to stay below three percent.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious-disease expert, warned states on Thursday not to re-open too quickly or too soon, the Associated Press reports.

“When you pull back there will be cases, and what we need to do is make sure (states) have in place the capability of identifying, isolating and contact tracing individuals.” Fauci said.

On Thursday, Governor Jim Justice said he will be lifting West Virginia’s stay-at-home order at 12:01 a.m. Monday, May 4. It’s being replaced with a “Safer-at-Home” order, which does not require West Virginians to stay home, but strongly encourages it.

West Virginia has no immediate plan in place to re-open nursing facilities to visitors.

Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has also laid out a plan to re-open. It's called “Responsible Restart Ohio.”

A somewhat stricter rollout than West Virginia, Ohio will allow “medically necessary” procedures that don’t require an overnight stay to restart on May 1. Those procedures include check-ups with dentists and primary-care physicians.

Starting May 4 manufacturing and construction businesses, along with any business with a typical office environment, can re-open if they follow Responsible Ohio guidelines. Those guidelines include requiring a face cover for all employees, conducting daily health assessments of employees, maintaining good hygiene, maintaining an appropriate physical distance, sanitizing the workplace frequently and limiting the capacity of a business to maintain social-distancing guidelines.

Additional guidance can be found on Ohio’s coronavirus website.

Starting May 12, retail stores can reopen if they can meet the same guidelines listed above.

While carry-out is still allowed, Ohio’s dine-in restaurants are supposed to stay closed for the time being. Schools, day cares, barber shops, hair salons, movie theaters, adult day-care centers and senior centers are also supposed to remain closed for the time being.

The Buckeye State’s stay-at-home order will remain in effect as well, despite some businesses re-opening. DeWine hopes this will encourage Ohioans to make smarter decisions about leaving their homes.