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Entertainment venues in W.Va. given date for reopening

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has given the green light to more entertainment businesses to reopen in the next two weeks.

Public pools (using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines), bowling alleys, roller skating rinks, pool halls and other indoor entertainment may reopen May 30. Movie theaters may reopen June 5.

Justice and his health officials continued to stress the importance of West Virginians wearing masks during his press briefing Thursday, the day a large number of different types of businesses reopened their doors to the public.

“The mask may be the key to everything,” he said.

Justice announced he has sent a “strike team” including members of the West Virginia National Guard to address the pandemic in Berkeley and Jefferson counties in the Eastern Panhandle. The counties are now in “high alert status” under the new surveillance plan for the state. Over the past 24 hours, Jefferson County had 20 new cases, while Berkeley County had 15 new cases. Berkeley has the highest cumulative number of cases in the state.

These counties were among those with free testing last weekend.

Justice said he will decide how to proceed in those counties after the National Guard can assess the situation. Options could include scaling back what can reopen in those counties, slowing down reopenings or a stay-at-home order.

The governor said he could also mandate masks be worn to enter establishments, but he wasn’t sure what enforcement of such a mandate would look like.

He said recently learned knowledge of the effectiveness of wearing masks or face coverings is why he has doubled down on the importance recently. He said it is the best tool to ensure the state can avoid a second surge of the virus and it isn’t a “big ask.” The inconvenience is minuscule compared to the benefits, he said.

Two new deaths were reported Thursday — an 85-year-old woman from Kanawha County and a 73-year-old woman from Jackson County. The total number of fatalities related to COVID-19 is now 71.

There were 36 new positive cases reported out of 2,976 laboratory results received by the state Thursday, which brings the total to 1,603. The percentage of positive tests cumulatively was 1.9%.

Total confirmed cases by county are: Barbour (seven), Berkeley (251), Boone (nine), Braxton (two), Brooke (three), Cabell (56), Calhoun (two), Clay (two), Fayette (39), Gilmer (nine), Grant (six), Greenbrier (nine), Hampshire (13), Hancock (13), Hardy (34), Harrison (37), Jackson (135), Jefferson (132), Kanawha (203), Lewis (five), Lincoln (five), Logan (15), Marion (48), Marshall (27), Mason (15), McDowell (six), Mercer (13), Mineral (35), Mingo (three), Monongalia (119), Monroe (six), Morgan (17), Nicholas (nine), Ohio (38), Pendleton (five), Pleasants (two), Pocahontas (15), Preston (15), Putnam (31), Raleigh (14), Randolph (nine), Ritchie (one), Roane (eight), Summers (one), Taylor (eight), Tucker (four), Tyler (three), Upshur (six), Wayne (96), Wetzel (seven), Wirt (four), Wood (48) and Wyoming (three).

More businesses in Ohio were also given a restart date Thursday by Gov. Mike DeWine.

Miniature golf, batting cages and bowling alleys can resume May 26, as well as sports training.

Catering and banquet centers can reopen under similar guidelines as restaurants effective June 1. Guidelines include 6 feet between tables and no congregating. For the immediate future, crowd size will be limited to 300.

There were 731 new positive cases reported in Ohio on Thursday, bringing the total to 30,167, and 55 new deaths, for a total of 1,836. The Lawrence County Health Department reported one new positive case in the county, bringing its total to 28. All have recovered except the new case.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced more dates for businesses to reopen. Auctions can begin June 1. Some child care will open June 8, with the rest and day camps opening June 15. Horse shows can also resume June 8.

June 29 is the target date for reopening bars and raising group gathering limits to 50.

There were 135 new positive cases reported in Kentucky on Thursday, for a total of 8,286, and 10 new deaths, for a total of 386.

The CDC reported 1,551,095 total cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. as of Thursday, with 93,061 deaths related to the virus.

Students, teachers celebrate last day of school in Cabell County

HUNTINGTON — Rain or shine, teachers and staff at two Cabell County schools were determined to say goodbye to their students for the summer Thursday with drive-by parades.

Teachers at Southside Elementary School in Huntington lined the sidewalks outside the school as students and their families drove by one last time in honor of the last official day of class.

“We’re cheering on the kids. We want them to decorate their cars — it’s suggested that they show their school pride, play celebration music,” said Kristen Austin, third-grade teacher at Southside. “And, of course, we’re all standing 6 feet apart and waving.”

Despite the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, Austin said she’s managed to keep in contact with her class of 18 students throughout the duration of the school closures.

“We have Zoomed twice a week, and we’ve done a couple scavenger hunts. One was for Earth Day and they had to find different things outside, so that was fun,” she said. “It’s something we would have done in the classroom, but that didn’t happen this year.”

Austin said she even found a nonprofit animal rescue that allowed teachers to “rent” farm animals to join in on the Zoom calls.

“We love animals in our classroom — we have two guinea pigs as pets — so we rented farm animals to join us,” she said. “It was really cool to see all the animals and hear the stories about how they ended up on the farm.”

And although Austin said as a Southside resident she often sees her students out walking or playing with their families, it’s hard on everyone to continue social distancing.

“It’s difficult not to be able to hug them,” she said.

Central City Elementary School in Huntington held a similar drive-by event Thursday, and Principal Jody Sowards said he hopes it helped the students end the year on a positive note.

“We wanted to have that closure for them, with the kids creating memories for them, their families and our staff,” he said. “Who knows what the school year is going to look like for this coming fall, so we just wanted to have one last thing for our kids.”

Sowards said the school also put on a socially distanced graduation for its fifth-graders Wednesday to recognize their transition to middle school.

“We had them walk through, and that was pretty cool, too, just to get that opportunity with the kids and their parents and to have something positive during all this,” Sowards said. “The rain even held off for our little window of time.”

Students in Cabell County are tentatively scheduled to return to school Aug. 13.

Three Democrats, two Republicans eye Capito’s US Senate seat



HUNTINGTON — The 2020 elections have held a set of challenges for candidates due to the COVID-19 pandemic as social distancing and hunkering down have caused traditional campaigning activities, such as rallies, support events and public demonstrations, to be difficult, if not outright impossible, to host.

The race for one of West Virginia’s two seats in the U.S. Senate has been no different.

Incumbent Shelley Moore Capito has been focused on COVID-19 since the virus began making national headlines. Having devoted a portion of her website to tracking the virus and providing up-to-date information to the public, Capito has been making strides to combat its effects. An example of this can be seen in her cooperation with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to expand COVID-19 testing with $9.8 million.

Having assumed the office in 2015, Capito has been described as a moderate Republican, with her views often switching between falling in and out of line with overall party views. Though her stance on the subject of abortion has been difficult to pin down, she has garnered endorsements from West Virginians for Life and received a 100% from the National Right to Life Committee. Capito also has shown general support for gun ownership and received an "A" rating with the NRA.

It is this same moderation that is one of the biggest points of criticism from one of her rivals, though.

Running against Capito in the primary election is Allen Whitt, the president of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia who has described himself as a “hardcore, principled conservative” and holds that Capito has simply not done enough for the state.

“The incumbent currently ranks 51st out of 53 Republican senators,” said Whitt. “Once again, we find a category where our state is ranking near the bottom. We need change, and I know I can be that change.”

Whitt has declared himself as championing stances on First and Second Amendment protection, as well as all possible care given toward the unborn.

“All the studies I’ve researched have shown me that there is never a medical reason to kill a fetus,” Whitt says, adding that he believes the federal government has overreached with its response to the coronavirus.

“The government has created a mess,” said Whitt. “We’ve been engaged in mad, panicked spending with things such as these stimulus checks. It’s a temporary solution that will only lead to dependency, and it needs to be stopped.”

Also running as a Republican is Larry Eugene Butcher, a 68-year-old resident of Washington, West Virginia. No information on Butcher’s campaign or contact information was made available to The Herald-Dispatch.

Three Democrats also are running in the primary for a chance at Capito’s seat.

Paula Jean Swearengin is once again campaigning for the position after her loss to Manchin in 2018. Born in Mullens, West Virginia, Swearengin’s platform is described as being based on the people of West Virginia. Swearengin is so devoted to this idea that she has refused sponsors and funding from corporations so that her campaign is supported completely by individuals.

Swearengin lists providing universal health care and ending political corruption as being among her top priorities, with promises to provide stable jobs and improve the overall quality of life of the average citizen also ranking prominently.

Richard Ojeda, a Logan native, retired Army major and former state senator who previously ran for national office several times, including a brief entry into the 2020 presidential race, lists his military service as being inspiration for his conversion into politics.

“When I returned to Logan, I found leaders that were nowhere near as competent as the ones I had served under,” said Ojeda. “I couldn’t stand it, and it made me realize that I had to challenge them.”

Ojeda lists ending Citizens United, legalizing medical cannabis, holding drug companies accountable for the opioid epidemic and bringing new jobs to West Virginia as top priorities should he get into office.

“It is time we elect a leader who knows what it has been like to work and struggle their whole life to office,” he said.

Also running as a Democrat is former mayor of South Charleston, Richie Robb. Robb lists the efforts of former U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller as being major inspirations for his campaign, and said he seeks to emulate their efforts to bring “good jobs to West Virginia.”

“The economy has left West Virginia behind,” said Robb. “I find that our state is often overlooked in favor of others, and it is both depressing and distressing to me. We need to jump-start ourselves.”

Economic stimulation and renewed employment efforts rank among Robb’s top priorities should he get into office, especially following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this, Robb is determined to provide medical care and training as well.

“We can always rebuild our economy,” said Robb. “But no matter how hard you try, you cannot bring back and rebuild a life.”

The West Virginia primary election takes place June 9. More information on the candidates for other positions can be found online at www.herald-dispatch.com/elections/.

Huntington Mall reopens for business

BARBOURSVILLE — Folks who love shopping and walking around at the Huntington Mall in Barboursville are finally getting to go back after it reopened Thursday.

“I not only love shopping at the mall, but it’s a great place to walk around and get some exercise for us senior citizens,” said 80-year-old Phyllis Pinson, of Barboursville. “I am glad is it finally reopened.”

The mall had been closed since March 24 following West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s order that nonessential businesses in the state close to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Joe Bell, director of corporate communications for Cafaro, the mall’s parent company, said normal mall hours of 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday will resume immediately.

While the mall itself will be open, some stores, restaurants and other businesses may be opening at a later date or with alterations to their normal routines, Bell said, so patrons should call or check online for the hours of operation for individual stores.

“There were several stores not open, but the ones that were open were doing great business on Thursday,” Bell said. “Some others haven’t reopened as well, so if you want to know before you go, visit the mall’s online directory. The list is updated daily.”

A full listing of stores that are open and services available is online at https://www.huntingtonmall.com/directory/.

Dick’s Sporting Goods, Field & Stream and Books-A-Million reopened to inside traffic, but many others remain temporarily closed or are offering limited availability.

“Many of the mall’s retailers are offering ‘Mall To Go’ curbside pickup at designated mall entrances by calling your favorite store, in advance, to place orders,” Bell said.

Those who visit Huntington Mall will notice several changes, Bell said, including signage and physical barriers to enhance social distancing and more stringent cleaning standards, especially in high-touch areas.

And because of the high demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), the mall is developing a way for locally based manufacturers and retailers of such gear to get their products to the people who need them, Bell said.

“Local manufacturers and retailers of PPE may qualify for free rent at the mall’s new PPE Marketplace,” Bell said. “They are encouraged to contact Brian McGahagan at the mall’s leasing office for details.”

McGahagan can be reached at 330-747-2746 or by email at bmcgahagan@cafarocompany.com.

Meanwhile, Ashland Town Center was set to reopen Friday, May 22, with hours of 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Planned reopening dates for individual tenants may vary, so guests are encouraged to call ahead and to follow along on Facebook and Instagram @AshlandTownCenter for the most up-to-date information.

“We are inspired by the resilience of our community and look forward to safely welcoming back our guests,” said Vicki Ramey, general manager at Ashland Town Center. “We will continue to work with local, state and federal agencies to do all we can in order to contribute to the containment, treatment and prevention of COVID-19.”