WEST VIRGINIA— After nearly a year of combating COVID-19 in the state by removing children from being in school full time, Governor Jim Justice says it is time for students and teachers to make a complete return to the classroom.
During his Friday’s briefing, Justice proclaimed that, after numerous discussions with members of the West Virginia pandemic response leadership team, as well as other state leaders regarding the declining number of COVID-19 cases and the rising number of vaccinated West Virginians, he has decided to issue a series of executive orders, lessening some of the current restrictions.
Justice announced yesterday that he is calling on the West Virginia Board of Education to make it mandatory that all counties send their students in grades Pre-K-8 back full-time.
“On a stand point of Pre-K through eighth grade students, I am signing an executive order that all of those students in all of our 55 counties should be in school,” he declared.
The order reads, “WHEREAS, various studies have been conducted across the globe and the science and data that are now available have led West public health experts to recommend that schools, and particularly elementary and middle/junior high schools, are comparatively safe environments for students, with rates of positivity and infection typically lower than is the case in the surrounding communities in which such studies were conducted.”
The order continues be saying, “it has been identified through experience with remote learning across the state, and across this nation, that many students have greater difficulty learning and doing well in their courses when learning is conducted by remote means, and it has also been identified that reporting of potential cases of abuse and neglect of children has been significantly reduced with educators and other school staff not being able to see students in person to identify causes of concern and report them accordingly.”
Executive Order 7-21 also states that elementary and middle/junior high schools may be open for in-person instruction and/or extracurricular activities without regard to the designation of the school's county on the DHHR County Alert System.
Justice went on to say that, by next week, all teachers and school service personnel over 50 years of age, who requested to be vaccinated, will be administered their second dose.
He revealed that he has asked WVSSAC officials to work with all county school boards to ensure they have occupancy rules or attendance limitations that meet all social distancing requirements and all other guidelines.
The governor also has made adjustments to other limitations that were previously in place, as the state stages its comeback.
Previously, restaurants and bars were being limited to 50 percent capacity. Under the new order, they may now operate at 75 percent with Justice expecting to lift the capacity restrictions all together in just a few weeks. This change may only be applied if social distancing can be maintained.
Also, under the direction of the governor, the DHHR has amended its rules on capacity limitations for small businesses, retail stores and grocery stores.
For small businesses and retail stores, capacity will be permitted to increase from two patrons per 1,000 square feet to four per 1,000 square feet.
While for grocery stores, capacity will be permitted to increase from three shoppers per 1,000 square feet to six per 1,000 square feet.
These businesses must continue to follow all applicable safety guidelines, including, but not limited to, mandatory face coverings and social distancing.
“I am basically doubling the limitations that were in place,” Justice stated. “We know that these places are low risk, as long as we continue to wear our face masks.”
Executive Order 6-21 will raise the social gathering limit from just 25 people to 75. Those partaking in large gathering and still required to follow social distancing guidelines and wear face coverings.
The Governor also issued a statement regarding live music performances saying, except for those incorporating vocals or using wind instruments, may take place indoors, so long as the event is held in accordance with all applicable safety guidelines.
Live music incorporating vocals or using wind instruments may be performed indoors only for the purpose of being broadcasted to remote audiences.
With the state reporting less than 10,000 active cases for the first time since November 15, 2020, Justice is cautiously optimistic for the road ahead.