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CHARLESTON — Families can start visiting loved ones in most nursing homes across the state starting on Wednesday, June 17.

Gov. Jim Justice made the announcement during his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday.

But the visitations will have guidelines.

“Because these people are, we know, they are the most vulnerable of all (to the virus), and so therefore we are going to phase in this visitation,” he said. “We are doing it as quickly was we can.”

Justice said visitations can start next week only in nursing homes that have had no positive coronavirus cases for at least 14 previous days (from June 3 to June 17).

“Visitations can begin immediately (when the 14-day mark is reached),” he said. “We are doing this (visitations) by appointment only. As they open back up you will be expected to call and get an appointment.”

Justice said it will be up to the nursing home to determine where the meeting can take place and how many appointments can be safely handled at one time.

But visitors must follow safety protocol including wearing masks, social distancing and hand sanitization.

“It has been tough separating them from their families,” he said of nursing home residents. “But in order to protect them, we had to do what we did (stopping visitations early on in March).”

Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources (DDHR), said nursing home facilities will determine the pace they want to start visitations, and include more visitors than family members.

“Non-essential personnel will need to visit the building again like nutritionists and beauticians,” he said. “This will be a process when increased group activities will begin in the facilities as well and things will get back to as normal as we can be right now.”

Crouch said the number of family members who can visit may be limited and some visitations can possibly be held outside.

Justice also announced that the West Virginia Board of Education and State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch have released guidelines for counties to use to start holding in-person graduation ceremonies beginning as early as Monday, June 22.

“This is something I wanted to see in the worst way because this is such an important moment for these children – an accomplishment beyond belief and we want to be able to stand and applaud and recognize them for all their hard work,” he said. “I salute everybody for all the hard work that’s been done behind-the-scenes to make this happen.”

The guidelines require that all in-person graduations must be held at outdoor venues and that events must be structured to allow for adequate social distancing and for other safety measures to be properly followed.

Justice also said outdoor, open-air concerts will be permitted to resume on Wednesday, July 1, provided that strict safety guidelines are being properly followed.

This pertains to traditional concert venues, as well as bars or restaurants with outdoor performance areas, so long as they allow for patrons to have enough space to properly follow the appropriate safety guidelines.

“I am well aware of how difficult it is to run a business with one hand tied behind your back as far as being able to be successful and making the economics work,” Justice said. “We’ve got a lot of great people who are working hard and we are trying to help them in every way we can.”

One of the problems that has cropped up with the coronavirus is outbreaks at some churches.

“This is a shot across the blow in regard to churches,” he said. “We have seen at least four church-related outbreaks across the state, ranging between five and eight cases per congregation. In total, we’ve seen at least 24 positive cases among church members.”

Justice cautioned that many in church are elderly and they are the most vulnerable.

“We surely don’t want to get in a situation where we are passing COVID-19 to our elderly,” he said.

The primary factor in these outbreaks, he said, was that the organizations had not adequately planned or put in place social distancing or infection control guidelines.

“All I am doing now is encouraging you, in our church settings, to follow the guidelines as far as every other pew, as far as social distancing, as far as wearing masks,” he said. “We love our church activities, we absolutely treasure them the most of all. But I’m just cautioning you to take heed and be a little more careful.”

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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