CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The owners of 12 restaurants and bars sued the governor of West Virginia on Wednesday for indefinitely closing establishments in student-heavy Monongalia County due to the coronavirus.
Gov. Jim Justice ordered bars closed there on Sept. 2 after pictures were posted online of college students in Morgantown packing bars without masks. He defended his decision on Wednesday and said the county may soon be able to reopen further if cases keep going down.
In the lawsuit filed in federal court, the bar owners argue the governor's executive orders related to pandemic restrictions are unenforceable. In addition to Justice, the suit also names the city of Morgantown and its interim city manager and the head of the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration Commissioner as defendants.
“I made the decision to shut back down. And I'm proud of that decision, and I'm not backing up on that decision in any way,” Justice said at a Wednesday news conference.
At the time in early September, West Virginia University officials said they were dismayed their students had crowded bars and caused the governor to shut them down just two days after allowing them to reopen.
Meanwhile, the university announced on Wednesday it will resume in-person undergraduate classes in Morgantown next Monday. The school took all courses online on Sept. 8 after a spike in cases from Labor Day weekend.
“The data drove our decision and I am so delighted all indications are we can safely return to in-person instruction,” university president Gordon Gee said in a statement.
Monongalia County improved from red to orange on the state's color-coded coronavirus map the same day as the school's announcement. There are currently no more counties in red on the map, the most severe category of virus spread that means there are 25 or more cases per 100,000 people.
Eight counties are marked orange, where in-person instruction is not allowed for K-12 schools.
Officials have reported more than 14,500 cases of COVID-19 in the state and at least 319 deaths have been caused by the virus.