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Justice extends order closing county bars for an additional 10 days

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Article by: Ben Conley, The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice’s executive order closing bars in Monongalia County has been extended 10 days.

The original 10-day closure — aimed at slowing a spike in COVID-19 numbers among young people in the county — was set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Friday. The shutdown is now in place until 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 3.

According to a press release issued by the governor’s office, Monongalia County’s 289 active cases remain the most in the state and make up 17.9% of the active cases in West Virginia.

“Monongalia County remains a hotspot and going to a bar is among the riskiest things that we can do at a time where we’re trying to contain this terrible virus,” Justice said. “We’ve seen some of our numbers across the state start to move in our favor just in the past day or so, but it’s absolutely crucial for us to see continued improvement in Monongalia County in the days ahead. It is our hope to be able to get these businesses reopened as soon as safety can be ensured for all.”

The release points out that the extension comes with the blessing of the Monongalia County Commission.

The commission, along with Morgantown Mayor Ron Dulaney and County Health Officer Lee Smith, forwarded some recommendations to Justice’s office early Thursday afternoon. Those recommendations didn’t specifically mention extending the bar closure.

“I think we all agree that bars focused on basically socializing and alcohol consumption are risky,” Dulaney said. “So we do understand the decision to extend those closures.”

One of the local recommendations — that food service establishments with bars can begin using “bar areas” for food service — was granted in Justice’s latest order.

“This is somewhat of a softening, if you will, of the policy and a statement that the governor’s office is willing to listen to the municipalities as well as the county commission of Monongalia County,” Commission President Ed Hawkins said.

The local recommendations offered to Justice also included financial consideration for the businesses most impacted by the emergency orders.

“We all know the establishments we’re aiming at here. I feel badly for the businesses that are completely closed,” Hawkins said, explaining he was encouraged that the extension was only 10 days.

Not everyone found it encouraging.

One of the questions  Apothecary Ale House & Cafe owner Grace Hutchens said she can’t get an answer to is what constitutes the difference between a bar that serves food and a restaurant that serves alcohol.

Hutchens said  the last 10 days have been extremely difficult despite the establishment remaining open for takeaway food, bottled beer and growler service.

“We’ll probably open up on Monday for meal service because we kind of have to,” Hutchens said. “We just can’t do nearly what we need to do in sales to be able to justify being open for takeout. It’s not possible.”

She said it’s been difficult getting any type of guidance on exactly who is allowed to be open and under what circumstances.

“We’re all kind of guessing here as to what applies to you and what you should do,” she said. “We’ve followed the rules step by step with no known issues, but then we’re still lumped in with places that weren’t maybe as responsible. We’re being punished even though it feels no different to come sit at my table and have a beer than it does to sit somewhere else and eat.”

According to the press release, additional guidance will be forthcoming from the ABCA on the use of bar areas for food.