W.Va. governor warns of ‘problems’ as he expands reopenings

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice pounds the table at the conclusion of his press conference saying the state can beat the coronavirus challenge, Friday, March 13, 2020 at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Justice announced that all schools are to be closed by the end of the school day Friday. (Chris Dorst/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Monday expanded his plan to lift coronavirus restrictions while acknowledging that cases will likely rise as the economy reopens.

The Republican governor has added indoor malls to the growing list of businesses set to resume operations this week, saying it made sense to do so because big box stores are also reopening.

Justice has timed the most aggressive step of his plan for Thursday, just ahead of Memorial Day weekend, when he will allow the reopening of restaurants, tanning salons, malls, big box stores, all-terrain vehicle rentals, campgrounds, the Hatfield-McCoy trails and whitewater rafting and zipline businesses.

Justice has warned that the virus could devastate West Virginia, with the state’s high numbers of senior citizens and people with underlying health problems. He said health officials will spring up at the sight of any new outbreaks as he admitted that a spike looms as reopenings continue.

“There’s going to be problems. This disease is here. We have got to be careful and if you will just please be super careful in what you do, we’ll be fine,” he said, later mentioning Texas as a state where cases are rising as restrictions were removed.

It is unclear exactly what criteria Justice is using to decide when certain businesses restart services, though last week the governor said he moved to lift restrictions on gyms and tanning salons after his office was bombarded with calls from business owners.

The governor has also laid out the next few steps of his reopening strategy. Cabins, lodges, bars at half-capacity, museums and zoos can reopen May 26. Spas and video lottery retailers can reopen May 30. Casinos can reopen June 5.

His plan to lift restrictions hinges on the state’s positive test rate staying under 3% for three days, loosening a previous goal of having the number of new cases drop for two weeks. He has never explained why the benchmark was eased but Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, has said the state has enough downward trending indicators to lift restrictions.

At least 68 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and about 1,500 have tested positive, health officials said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptom. But for others, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.

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