CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday that bars around West Virginia University in Morgantown can reopen next Tuesday, a month after images of maskless college students packing bars led them to be shut down.
Police and state alcohol regulators will step up enforcement in the college town, Justice said at a coronavirus press briefing. The Republican governor abruptly ordered Monongalia County bars to close indefinitely on Sept. 2 — just two days after allowing them to reopen — as many patrons lined up without social distancing.
The owners of 12 restaurants and bars sued the governor and local officials in Morgantown last month in federal court over the shutdown.
“Bars that don’t enforce these guidelines, where we see a bunch of people packed in with no mask wearing … you will be shut down again,” Justice said, adding establishments risk having their licenses suspended.
County officials previously required bars to cut indoor seating occupancy by half, close dance floors and discontinue live performances and entertainment. Restaurants in the county had been able to continue dine-in service without operating their bars. Morgantown city officials did not immediately return a request for comment.
“That’s great, because I know businesses are suffering,” Jacob Samples, owner of Mountain Mama’s Tavern and Sports Bar in Morgantown, said of the governor’s announcement.
The virus’ spread has slowed down in Monongalia County, currently classified as green on the state’s color-coded coronavirus map. West Virginia University returned to in-person instruction on Sept. 28 after about three weeks of online-only classes.
The school reported Friday that 173 individuals from its Morgantown campus are participating in a 14-day quarantine after close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.
“We are pleased that the governor has mandated restrictions in the bars, as well as the management of potential lines outside of the establishments,” university spokesperson April Stolzenbach wrote in an email. “We ask that WVU students abide by the new policies.”
Justice said seven additional people have died in the state since Wednesday due to the coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to at least 376 deaths. He said the state reported 382 new confirmed cases over the past 24 hours.
The state’s color-coded map decides whether schools in a county can reopen for in-person instruction or have sports competitions based on the extent of virus spread. Five counties on Friday were orange, and if that carries into Saturday, their schools will need to close and hold off on sports in the coming week.