Governor widens reopenings before Memorial Day weekend


By Anthony Izaguirre - Associated Press



CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday widened the most aggressive phase of his coronavirus reopening strategy to allow tanning salons to open just before Memorial Day weekend.

The Republican governor said he has been overwhelmed with requests from tanning businesses to be included among the restaurants, big-box stores and recreational services reopening next week.

“I never dreamed in all my life that we’ve gotten all these calls in regard to the tanning businesses or tanning beds. We continue to get all kinds of calls,” he said, adding that health officials now think it’s safe for people to tan.

Justice has picked May 21, the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, to stage the biggest step in his reopening plan, while warning that a second wave of the virus could cause catastrophic damage to the state.

He is allowing restaurants, which have been allowed to have outdoor seating, to operate at half-capacity if they follow social distancing guidelines. The Hatfield-McCoy Trails are also opening the same day, along with businesses that rent all-terrain vehicles, bicycles and other outdoor recreational items. Campgrounds will reopen for in-state residents.

The governor has said lifting the state’s virus restrictions is a balance between safety and the state’s ailing economy.

His strategy depends on the state’s positive test rate staying below 3% for three consecutive days, reversing a previous goal of having the number of new cases decline for two weeks.

Both the White House and Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, have endorsed the two-week benchmark. The governor’s office has never explained why it eased the reopening criteria, though Marsh now says the state has enough downward trend lines to begin lifting restrictions.

The governor’s office has not given clear details on testing capacity standards and safety equipment inventory it wants to meet as part of the plan to lift restrictions.

Justice has already let hospitals resume elective procedures and allowed the reopening of drive-in theaters, physical therapy centers, small businesses and barbershops.

At least 58 people in the state have died from the virus and around 1,400 people have tested positive, according to state health data.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

By Anthony Izaguirre

Associated Press