West Virginia eases reopening plan to observe caseload

FILE - In this July 8, 2019, file photo, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks at a roundtable...
FILE - In this July 8, 2019, file photo, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks at a roundtable in Huntington, W.Va. Justice on Thursday, April 30, 2020, said he is lifting the statewide stay-home order next week as part of his plan to ease coronavirus restrictions. The Republican said a new rule will go into effect Monday, May 4 encouraging people to stay home but not requiring them to do so. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)(WDTV)
Published: May. 5, 2020 at 6:00 PM EDT
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West Virginia has scaled back its plan to lift coronavirus restrictions to gauge how current reopenings will effect the state’s caseload, officials said Tuesday.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice has announced that the third week of his plan will begin next Monday with the opening of physical therapy centers and drive-in movie theaters. His original strategy sought to have offices, gyms, restaurants and other businesses start resuming operations in the third and following weeks.

“This week we have reduced the aggressiveness of some of the reopenings. We’re going to let things kind of play out for a week or so,” Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, told reporters.

Justice has so far let hospitals resume elective procedures and allowed the reopening of small businesses, outdoor dining restaurants and barber shops. The physical therapy centers and drive-in theaters can open Monday.

The governor has loosened a key testing benchmark to accommodate his reopening strategy without explanation. His plan hinges on having the state remain under a 3% positive test rate for three days, reversing a previous goal of having new cases decline for two consecutive weeks. Marsh previously endorsed the two-week criteria but now says the state has enough downward trend lines to warrant lifting restrictions.

The Justice administration has not given clear benchmarks on what kinds of testing capacity and safety equipment inventory it wants to have as part of the reopening strategy.

At least 50 people have died and about 1,200 people have tested positive for the virus, state health officials said.