CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — People traveling to West Virginia from coronavirus hotspots must quarantine for two weeks upon arrival or risk criminal charges, Gov. Jim Justice ordered Monday.
The executive order from Justice, a Republican, mandates that people entering the state from New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Connecticut, Italy or China must self-isolate and will face up to a year in jail on an obstruction charge if they do not comply. State police will monitor roads for travelers from areas hard-hit by the virus and “check in” on people who don’t follow the order, Justice said.
“First of all, we don’t want anybody coming here from across state lines,” said Justice, making an exception for essential business services.
The move echoes similar orders by governors in Rhode Island, Texas, Florida, Maryland and South Carolina, at least one of which triggered Constitutional concerns over whether it is legal to pull someone over based on the origin state of his or her license plate.
Justice and General Counsel Brian Abraham did not answer a question from The Associated Press on the constitutionality of the governor’s order at the news briefing on Monday.
Joseph Cohen, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said the order is overly broad, vague and raises Constitutional concerns.
“From a real practical standpoint it’s hard to imagine how they would enforce this order without violating the Fourth Amendment,” he said, referring to the amendment that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
The directive allows for people who are under the ordered quarantine to leave to get food or medical attention. It doesn’t apply to people traveling into West Virginia for work, health, emergency or essential business purposes.
The order also closes state park campgrounds in an effort to curb out-of-state visitors.
At least 145 people in West Virginia have tested positive for the virus, according to state health officials who say there have been 3,682 negative tests. The state reported its first coronavirus fatality on Sunday with the death of an 88-year-old Marion County woman.
West Virginia was the last U.S. state to report a confirmed case, though Justice attributed that to a lack of testing. Testing remains limited, meaning most people now spreading the highly contagious virus may not know they have been infected, and state health officials have admitted their count lags behind the actual total as results pour in from counties around the state.
The Republican governor has warned that the virus could cause severe damage in a state where about 20% of the population is 65 or older and many have existing health problems. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that West Virginia has the nation’s highest percentage of adults at risk of developing serious illnesses from the virus.
A statewide stay-home order that directed all nonessential businesses to close went into effect last week, intensifying previous moves by Justice, who has ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, casinos, gyms, health clubs, recreation centers, barbershops, nail salons and hair salons. Schools statewide are closed until at least April 20.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, and the overwhelming majority of people recover. But severe cases can need respirators to survive, and with infections spreading exponentially, hospitals across the country are either bracing for a coming wave of patients, or already struggling to keep up.
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