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Cabell health officials offer transition information

HUNTINGTON — As businesses plan to reopen following West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s announced plan to economic recovery on Monday, the Cabell-Huntington Health Department is offering help on how to do it.

“The Cabell-Huntington Health Department, along with community partners, has developed a ‘Business and Economic Community Transition’ document for Cabell County and the City of Huntington,” said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director for the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. “This document serves as a framework for an appropriate and reasonable process whereby our community can reopen its businesses in accordance with federal and state guidelines and ensure as much mitigation of the transfer of COVID-19 as possible.

“It’s one thing to say when to reopen, but another thing is how to reopen,” Kilkenny said. “This serves as an outline of the issues and lists of things to consider in preparation for reopening.”

To view an online copy of the transition document, visit www.cabellhealth.org.

The document addresses COVID-19 health education that businesses need to know, ways to obtain and sustain delivery of protective supplies, and developing appropriate policies and procedures. It also goes over state guidelines already in effect.

John McKenna, owner of Hometown Sportswear in Barboursville, said his business has complied with state guidelines and closed the retail part of the store.

“However, we are continuing to work with our customers with the custom screen-printing and embroidery orders,” he said. “Business has been understandably slower than normal with the retail shutdown. As a business owner, nothing would make me happier than to see West Virginia businesses return to some sort of normalcy.

“I think that most everyone that has been cooped up in their homes are itching to get out and be a part of society again. With that said, we will comply with the governor’s and the Cabell Health Department’s guidelines to ensure the safety of our customers and employees.”

Kilkenny said most businesses want to open and stay open.

“They don’t want to open, then have to close back,” he said.

Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Bissett said the area’s business community already has faced closing temporarily or augmenting their business model to function in a way that protects customers and employees.

“It is a chapter in our region’s history that we all hope ends to some degree sooner than later,” he said.

Bissett believes jump-starting the state’s economy will have its own risks, challenges and, yes, failures.

“But we will also see innovation, opportunity and collaboration,” he said. “Not unlike many did during the necessary quarantine, businesses who modify themselves to meet the changed needs of their customers and clients will find success, but those who do not run the risk of never returning to where they were before the pandemic. This risk can be managed through careful planning, innovation, use of credible information, and, perhaps most of all, patience as we move into what will be the new normal.”

The plan was developed by the health department with consultation and communication from the City of Huntington and the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said.

“The Health Department is basing these decisions on data and science, and it’s important that we trust our health care professionals,” Williams said.

Justice unveils plan for state 'comeback'

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Monday unveiled the highlights of his plan to bring West Virginia businesses back open amid the pandemic.

It will take three days of the percentage of positive results among tests taken being less than 3% for the state to move forward with the plan, Justice said. As of 5 p.m., Monday’s rate was 2.49%, and Justice said he was confident by the end of the day, Monday would be counted as Day 1 toward the three-day guide.

Week 1 of the reopening plan will allow elective procedures at hospitals and other health care providers such as dentistry and mental health, and testing of day care staff members. If numbers continue to trend positively, Week 2 will allow small businesses with less than 10 employees; professional services like hair salons; and outdoor dining at restaurants, to resume. Churches and funeral homes will also be able to have gatherings, but with social distancing measures, such as sitting every other pew.

Weeks 3-6 will see other businesses open up, including inside restaurants, parks, casinos, hotels, government offices and remaining small businesses.

Guidelines will be announced a week prior to businesses opening. Justice said the state will largely operate on an honor system, but encouraged people who witness improper action to call their county health department or the state.

Mountain Health Network announced Monday the state had approved its plan to reopen more fully. The hospital system will begin implementing the plan Tuesday, “cautiously” returning to procedures throughout May. Among the criteria the plan had to meet was an adequate supply of personal protective equipment. The conservation of PPE was the main driver by halting elective procedures.

Restrictions will remain on visitation at nursing homes and at entertainment venues like the movie theater, sporting events and concerts, as well as gatherings of more than 25. Justice said all measures could be halted, reversed or changed should there be a surge in community spread of the virus, unexpected increase in positive cases or if the percentage surges above 3%.

Current standards such as wearing a face mask, working from home to the greatest extent possible, maintaining six feet of distance and frequent handwashing are still important. Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar, said masks are most effective if 60% of the population wears them, adding the reminder that masks are to prevent asymptomatic people from spreading the virus through droplets from talking, sneezing, laughing, etc.

Marsh said officials are also monitoring the rate of spread of the virus. Currently, West Virginia’s rate means people with the virus are not spreading it, though that could change if residents ease up on social distancing and other protective measures.

Reopening is not mandatory, Justice said, and more information will be coming if there are concerns about bringing some employees back, like those at high-risk of complications if they contract COVID-19.

The unveiling of the plan came with the announcement of three new deaths in the state — a 92-year-old woman, an 88-year-old woman and a 76-year-old woman, all from Jackson County. It brings the total deaths related to the novel coronavirus to 37 in West Virginia.

As of 5 p.m., there have been 43,227 laboratory results received for COVID-19, with 1,077 positive (an increase of 27 from Sunday) and 42,150 negative. All labs are now reporting all tests, positive and negative, to the state. Data from all nursing home testing should be added by next week.

Confirmed cases by county: Barbour (four), Berkeley (139), Boone (two), Braxton (two), Brooke (three), Cabell (40), Fayette (10), Gilmer (two), Grant (one), Greenbrier (three), Hampshire (seven), Hancock (seven), Hardy (three), Harrison (30), Jackson (127), Jefferson (75), Kanawha (156), Lewis (four), Lincoln (one), Logan (12), Marion (45), Marshall (11), Mason (12), McDowell (six), Mercer (nine), Mineral (14), Mingo (two), Monongalia (102), Monroe (five), Morgan (nine), Nicholas (six), Ohio (26), Pendleton (three), Pleasants (two), Pocahontas (one), Preston (13), Putnam (21), Raleigh (eight), Randolph (four), Roane (four), Summers (one), Taylor (six), Tucker (four), Tyler (three), Upshur (four), Wayne (83), Wetzel (three), Wirt (three), Wood (38), Wyoming (one).

Dr. Cathy Slemp, state health officer, said testing capacity is near the point where any doctor who suspects COVID-19 for any reason could order a test for a patient, but like the rest of the country, supplies are still limited.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine also released more details Monday on his plan to reopen Ohio businesses. Elective hospital, dental and medical procedures that do not require an overnight stay in a hospital can begin Friday. Offices, manufacturing and construction can begin May 4 and retail May 12.

Face coverings will be mandatory for employees and customers at all times, DeWine said, and employees will have to do daily health assessments. He said working from home is still encouraged.

DeWine announced 362 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 16,325 cases. There have been 753 deaths.

DeWine is working with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear in a multi-state effort to reopen states. Beshear said Monday more details will be announced Wednesday, but the first steps to reopen will begin May 11 with new phases being introduced every week after. He said all employees will be required to wear masks at opened businesses.

Beshear announced 87 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 4,146 and 213 deaths.

After false start, Ohio to hold primary election Tuesday

IRONTON — When all is said and done, about 25% of Lawrence County’s registered voters could cast a ballot in today’s Ohio primary election, according to Cathy Snider, director of the county board of elections.

Ohio’s March 17 primary election was canceled at the last minute and reset to Tuesday, April 28, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The election also is being done primarily by absentee. However, there were 1,105 early walk-in voters. Also, any voters with developmental disabilities or who are blind can still walk in to the board of elections today and vote, Snider said.

There were more than 7,800 absentee ballots on file at the board office through last week. More than 1,000 were received in the mail Monday and at least 100 more at the drop box at the 5th Street side of the courthouse across from the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office.

Any absentee ballots dropped off at the drop by 7:30 p.m. Tuesday will be counted, Snider said.

Voters can check online to see if their ballots have been received at www.boe.ohio.gov/lawrence/.

A number of issues will be decided on the primary ballot.

County voters will decide whether to approve a 1.75-mill levy to support the Lawrence County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

The property tax will cost owners of property valued at $100,000 an additional $61.20 per year for five years, according to board officials. It will raise about $2.1 million for the board. County voters narrowly rejected a similar permanent levy last year. That levy sought a 2.5-mill tax.

There are two county commission races on the primary ballot. In one race, Commission President DeAnna Holliday faces Shawn Hacker in the Republican primary. The winner will face Jeffrey Blakeman, a Democrat, in the November general election.

In the other commissioner race, Colton Copley, an incumbent commissioner, faces Rome Township Trustee Brian Pinkerman.

The winner will face Perry Township Trustee Douglas “Matt” Malone, who has filed as an independent candidate in the fall. No Democratic candidate filed in that race.

State Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, faces Jeff Halley, of Gallia County, in the race for a two-year term in the state legislature. No Democrat filed in that race.

In the race for Lawrence County auditor, Paul David Knipp, appointed to the post last year after Stephens resigned to take the legislative seat, faces former County Commissioner Les Boggs and Valery Dyer in the Republican primary. The winner will face Jason Tolliver, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

County Treasurer Stephen Dale Burcham is unopposed in the Democratic primary. He will face the winner of the Republican primary between Union Township Trustee Cole Webb and Tresa Baker.

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Protesters seek immediate reopening of state

CHARLESTON — As Gov. Jim Justice rolled out a six-week plan for gradually reopening the state in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic during a briefing in the state Capitol on Monday, calls for an immediate, unconditional reopening were being shouted out by a protest group gathered outside.

In the area between the Capitol’s West Wing and the Governor’s Mansion, an animated group of about 60 people held protest signs, carried American and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and shouted slogans, waiting for Justice to emerge from the Statehouse to make their feelings known.

The decibel level from the protest group rose as the governor was seen exiting a nearby door and preparing to enter his personal SUV, parked nearby.

“Your businesses are open, why not ours? Let us go back to work!” shouted one man. “Your experts are experts in communism and control, not medicine,” yelled another.

Justice did not acknowledge the protesters as he rode in his vehicle during the short trip from the Capitol entrance to the entrance to the Governor’s Mansion.

Messages appearing on the protesters’ hand-held signs included “I prefer dangerous liberty over peaceful slavery,” and “Live by faith, not by fear.”

“This all started with a post on my Facebook page saying I was going to be outside the Governor’s Mansion today to give a speech, trying to convince the governor to undo the damage he’s done,” Delegate Marshall Wilson, I-Berkeley, said just before the rally got underway. “These people read the post and decided to be here, too.”

While observance of social distancing practices was seldom in evidence at the rally, and former delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, appeared to have been the only participant who wore a face mask, Wilson described COVID-19 as “a real illness here in West Virginia that’s killing people.” Wilson said his wife, an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and a medical professional, is currently working in a civilian hospital where coronavirus work is being done.

Even so, Wilson said, “the governor has no business telling you that you can’t run a business or you can’t go to work or church. He can’t be presenting dictatorial edicts telling you what to. He can only issue orders affecting the executive branch of government.”

Another speaker at the rally, Robert Mooney, owner-operator of Beckley Motorsports Park, said he recently planned to hold an outdoor “test and tune” event at his car racing venue, involving three stationary cars parked at 100-foot intervals. The idea, he said, was to give a small group of onlookers, mainly children, a taste of the sights and sounds of racing, minus an actual race.

Onlookers would have been separated by social distances in excess of current recommendations, he said, but someone from the community called health officials to say a race was being planned, and Mooney said he was ordered to cancel.

“There needs to be some common sense used,” he said. “When golf courses can operate and parking lots at Walmart and Lowe’s are filled with hundreds of people, why shut my event down?”

Mooney said he and other business operators can’t wait months to find out when, or whether, their events can be scheduled or opening dates set.

“We should be free to work and feed our families,” he said. “A lot of people are ready to just shut down their businesses.”

When workplaces are closed due to coronavirus concerns, people left jobless “are put in a survival mode,” said Kris Payne, who traveled from Wyoming County to attend Monday’s event.

“It’s a very bad situation,” Payne said. “We’re all afraid, when we should be mad and saying we’re not going to take it any more. Should you get up and go back to work and take care of your family or wait for the National Guard to come to your house and give you a box of food and some toilet paper and wait for what comes next?”

“I’m begging you to please stand up for your liberties,” Wilson said, as the rally neared its end. “I wanted the governor to reverse the bad decisions he’s made, but it looks like it’s time for a little civil disobedience. So, go to your churches, go to your businesses and go back to work.”