West Virginia governor moves to become the first state to allow youth sports with fans

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Friday said he will allow youth sports to resume games with spectators in the stands this summer as he moves to continue lifting coronavirus restrictions.

The Republican governor said low-contact youth sports teams can start practicing on June 8 and games can restart on June 22 if social distancing rules are followed. He said additional specifics and safety guidelines would be released soon.

“What this means is we will be able to have, you know, a little league game provided we keep an absolute distance between the fans that are there,” Justice said during his daily news conference.

Middle and high school teams can also begin training on June 8, Justice said, adding that sporting facilities such as tennis and basketball courts can reopen the same day. He is also allowing outdoor equestrian events to resume on June 22.

The announcements come after officials said there was an outbreak linked to a church service in Hampshire County as well as cases cropping up after a livestock auction in Jackson County. Statewide, recent infections have ticked up after spikes in the eastern panhandle and at the Huttonsville Correctional Center, a rural prison in Randolph County where more than 100 inmates have tested positive.

Clay Marsh, a high ranking West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, has said the cases are part of the “first steps that we need to learn of this new dance” of reopening during the pandemic.

Justice is also allowing swimming pools, bowling alleys, pool halls, spa and limited video lottery retailers to reopen on Saturday. Casinos and movie theaters can reopen June 5.

The governor’s plan to lift restrictions hinges on the state’s positive test rate staying under 3% for three days, loosening a previous goal of having the number of new cases drop for two weeks. Marsh has admitted that it would take a severe outbreak to pause the reopening under the new metric but says the state has enough downward trending benchmarks to move forward.

At least 74 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and nearly 2,000 have tested positive, health officials said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.

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