Dominion Post

Senate president, House speaker praise Justice’s reopening plan; progressive groups urge caution

MORGANTOWN — The leaders of the state Senate and House on Monday jointly praised Gov. Jim Justice’s plan to gradually reopen the state – called West Virginia Strong: The Comeback – while a number of progressive religious and citizen groups jointly called on him not to move to fast.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said in a joint statement, “The past six weeks have been some of the most difficult and challenging times in our state’s history.” Some have died and others have suffered devastating economic losses.

“We were pleased to see Governor Justice lay out a plan for getting West Virginians back to work. We are happy to have had input into the plan the Governor announced today. We are happy that the actions taken by the State in the past several weeks have slowed the spread of this virus. Now, we look forward to turning our attention to the process of recovering from the damage this virus has caused, both to our communities and to our economy.”

They agree with his plan to reopen as quickly as possible while maintaining health and safety measures, they said. “We are looking forward to working with the Governor to provide whatever support is necessary from the Legislature to jumpstart an economic recovery in West Virginia.”

Late Monday afternoon, Carmichael and Hanshaw released their own 110-page plan called West Virginia: Reopen Safely and Responsibly. They said in a release announcing the plan that it was developed in consultation with Justice. It is co-signed by all the GOP senators and 14 GOP delegates.

It includes eight specialized sections for opening businesses, a discussion of West Virginia’s long-term recovery, and several appendices that provide suggestions to move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, they said.

It also includes several policy reforms designed to spur economic growth, they said. These include broadband enhancement and expansion, incentives for businesses and individuals to relocate here, creating greater government efficiencies and improving recreation and quality of life in the state.

The other view comes in the form of a letter to Justice from the West Virginia Council of Churches, West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, the National Association of Social Workers West Virginia Chapter, West Virginia Citizen Action and West Virginia Working Families.

They referred to an “End the Shutdown” that was slated to take place outside the Capitol and waid they “want you to know this is a small minority of folks who must think they’re invincible or just don’t care about protecting their elders, neighbors, front line medical workers and first responders.”

They believe, they said, that the state data suggests it has not yet met the national guidelines of having had 14 days of plateau and decline. “Now is not the time to take our foot off the brakes.” (A chart Justice includes with plan slide show indicates a steady downward trend of cumulative percent positive cases starting April 7.)

They mention the high proportion of at-risk residents who are elderly, chronically ill or members of African-American communities. They urge him to extend widespread testing beyond nursing homes.

They urge him, “Stay the course, as you have asked all of us in the state to do.We need you to be extremely careful and deliberate and not loosen up on closures until the testing and monitoring that is essential to prevent, identify, and address any setbacks is in place. You and your team are correct in your focus on testing and tracing as preconditions for moving ahead.”