Gov. Jim Justice just announced during his daily press briefing that he is deploying the West Virginia National Guard to the Eastern Panhandle in response to a one-day flare up of COVID-19 positive tests in to counties in that region.

Wednesday, May 20, according to the governor, Berkley and Jefferson saw 20 and 15 new COVID-19 positive tests results respectively.

“With their exposure to Virginia and (Washington) D.C., right there they have a gigantic population that can infect people in those counties and can cause a big time exposure,” Justice said. “I’m sending the National Guard within hours to those counties and they will bring back a report to me tomorrow.”

Justice once again urged all West Virginians, and especially residents in and those traveling to and from Berkley and Jefferson counties, to wear a mask or face covering of some type in an effort to keep exposure to a minimum. If necessary, Justice said, he would make wearing masks mandatory.

West Virginia COVID-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh echoed the governor’s petition for people to wear masks. He cited the mortality rates in three counties based on the usage of masks. In Sweden, where no protocols are in place, the death rate is 38 persons per 100,000 people. In the United States, where mask use is about average, the rate is 28 deaths per 100,000. The nation of Japan has a much stricter policy and Marsh calls the people of Japan “mask wearers.” The death rate there is 0.61 persons per 100,000.

“This new phase of coming back out is one where we are learning to live in harmony and in concert with the COVID virus,” Marsh said.

The outbreak in Berkley and Jefferson counties “is not a surprise” and “is not an emergency,” according to Marsh. Adding that the counties of the Eastern Panhandle have the highest risk in the state because of their close proximity to Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland which is an area that is currently seeing the highest percentage increases in the nation.

“These are the first steps we need to learn in this new dance,” Marsh said.

Also, during the briefing, Justice announced that bowling alleys, roller rinks, other indoor activity areas and swimming pools can reopen beginning Saturday, May 30.

“We got new information (Wednesday, May 19) from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control),” Justice said. And, it was good.”

According to the most recent statement from the CDC, going to a public pool can be safe if normal protocols of social distancing and wearing face coverings while not in the water are followed.

“There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds,” the new guidelines read. “Proper operation and disinfection …  should kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Swimming and other water-related activities are excellent ways to get the physical activity and health benefits needed for a healthy life. However, they are not risk free.”

The guidelines can be found on the CDC website. They also encourage facility managers to reduce or space out lounges and seating areas to help maintain proper social distancing; to increase sanitation of lounges, benches, common areas and hand rails; to encourage personal hygiene etiquette such as hand washing, and covering coughs and sneezes; and to for those using the public facilities to limit close contact with people outside family groups.

On June 5, movie theaters will be allowed to reopen as well.

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