SPECIAL REPORT: ‘Opening West Virginia’


CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Federal, state, and local leaders from across the Mountain State came today, Wednesday, May 13, 2020, for a special town hall examining the reopening of West Virginia with WOWK. The event was led by WOWK’s Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R-West Virginia) says the Mountain State has created a miracle of sorts and avoided the greater number of cases that surrounding states have seen.

“We haven’t done this as Democrats and Republicans and Independents, we’ve done this as West Virginians pulling the rope together and we produced something that is unbelievable,” he says.

With more testing capabilities, Justice says the state will be able to tackle each group considered high-risk for the coronavirus. His staff currently works to complete the needed testing throughout the Mountain State.

United States Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) says the Senate continues to urge President Donald Trump to get the Defense Production Act enacted. This will help ensure every manufacturer that can produce testing can do so, he says.

He also introduced legislation, he says, that will assist businesses keep employees on the payroll.

“We think this will help an awful lot of businesses, help a lot of their employees stay employed and get a paycheck,” he says.

Justice also says he doesn’t plan to make masks mandatory. Each resident must understand how the state got to where they are today, he says. The numbers are very good right now, Justice says, and the state got here by working together. He doesn’t want to do anything that will divide the state unless absolutely necessary.


Business leaders from throughout the state joined Curtis to discuss the future of business in the Mountain State.

Wally Thornhill, owner of Thornhill Auto Group says “Automotive News” named the re-starting the supply chain, the “great restart of 2020.” The industry must learn how to be more efficient in how it addresses such issues in the future, he says. 

However, Thornhill says everyone must also “find hope in what we do.”

Michelle Rotellini, President and CEO of Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce added Raleigh County businesses had to adapt and get creative through online shops and curbside service.

Bishop Mark Brennan of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston says Catholics have been deprived of Mass throughout the pandemic and look forward to coming back together. However, they want to do so in the safest way possible.

Local churches continue to adapt its services, he says, to keep everyone safe. 

John Deskins, director of WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research described the current time as the highest level of economic uncertainty since the Great Depression.

However, he says he still has hope for “a pretty quick recovery.”

Ryan Moore, human resources leader for Procter & Gamble added West Virginia does have some strategic advantages for businesses. The business can get 80% of its goods to consumers within a 24 hour period.

Rotellini says businesses are going to find the Mountain State more attractive due to the rural aspect over big cities. 


West Virginia COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh says residents have been doing well as a state to flatten the curve due to coming together. It’s going to be important going forward to remember the lessons they learned to help keep each other safe.

WVU Medicine President and CEO Dr. Albert Wright added they took precautions to ensure they could handle patients and needed testing.

West Virginia Nurses Association President Joyce Wilson says although many thought the state would see a greater impact due to the amount of older residents, the numbers did stay down.

However, nurses throughout the state still need more personal protective equipment and they still may be negatively impacted.

Marsh says the state currently faces a more nuanced and challenging situation. Instead of focusing on the whole state, they want to begin focusing on each of the 55 counties.  


Steve Roberts from the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce says the Mountain State is a wonderful place to make a life and West Virginians have found ways to adapt and work together during this pandemic.

The Mountain State must prepare for the future, he says, by educating its students and improving the state’s infrastructure.

“And now we need to go out and make sure that the rest of the world knows what we already know, which is West Virginia is truly almost heaven,” he says.

WVU President E. Gordon Gee says they do plan to re-open in the fall. Although, they will still adapt to the situation at hand and make any adjustments needed.

Most importantly, he says, the state will see its beloved football in the fall.

“Even if I have to suit up … ,” Gee says. “I got my ankles taped and I’m ready to go in.”

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