Local leaders in Mercer County explain COVID-19 emergency rules

PRINCETON, WV (WOAY) – Emergency Legislative Rules issued on April 16th establish Public Health Standards for businesses remaining open during the COVID-19 outbreak. These Emergency rules, 64-CSR-114, were issued by the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and Human Resources.

Governor Jim Justice issued a statewide Stay-At-Home Order on March 23rd. This Order directed that all non-essential enterprises be closed to the public and cease all business operations except those required to maintain their inventory and provide security to their facilities.

Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler explained that the new Standards do not override the Governor’s Order.

“The Governor’s Executive Order mandated public access closure of the following: casinos, restaurants, bars, fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, barbershops, nail salons, and hair salons. The Public Health Standards contained in the newly issued Legislative rules permit other non-essential entities to be open to the public, provided they adopt safety measures to monitor the number of patrons in the store, limit the number of customers entering to two at a time, and allow no more than five people inside if the store has 1,000 square feet of area or less.  Entities are required to adopt safety measures to ensure distancing between customers.

The Governor’s Order contained exclusions, including: healthcare and pharmacy businesses, government functions, essential infrastructure, transportation hardware, and supply stores, essential human services, financial institutions, coal mining, media, churches, and hotel/motel facilities.

Sitler said, “These new Standards do not end the ordered closures or permit the operation of non-essential retail businesses. The closures mandated by the Executive Order are still in effect. Instead, they provide guidance for control measures to be adopted by businesses permitted to remain open”

Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett remarked, “I appreciate the Governor’s administrative stance on creating a uniform regulation to help all counties in West Virginia understand the importance of social distancing.  Certainly locally, we have to help regulate accessibility for those patrons or stores that may not be in compliance.   I would recommend that each business follow along the suggested protocol that they develop a written plan to submit to the local Health Department.”

“The primary concern of our communities right now should be for the health and well-being of our citizens.   Those in essential businesses, such as grocery stores, should be protected to the maximum extent possible so that they limit the exposure of this virus, thereby also securing our emergency services personnel.”

Captain Joe Parks of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department says “Businesses which remain open and provide nonessential services to the detriment of their competitors who are following the governor’s Order are deplorable. Making a profit in this manner should be addressed with criminal and civil sanctions.”

Businesses which operate in violation of these rules may be subject to misdemeanor charges and fines.

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