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It’s been almost a week since Gov. Jim Justice announced a stay at home order for state residents. Multiple state, county and local agencies have been working together to hold back the possible tide of positive COVID-19 test results with business and school closures and restricted access to government buildings.

Along with West Virginia, all our neighboring states also have stay at home orders in place, meaning they don’t want travel in or out of their states.

Yet with all these precautions we still see cars passing through our area with license plates that shout out where the driver is from - and many are not from here.

What are these people doing here? Did they somehow miss the message to stay at home? Does anyone want to approach them to find out?

This area is for many city dwellers and suburbanites, their getaway from the busyness and hustle of everyday life. But now it seems more than that.

By Camille Howard

While local motels and vacation spots are facing cancellations or are turning away out-of-town visitors, some vacation rental homes and cabins around the Eastern Panhandle and Potomac Highlands seem to be booked up, and with those bookings come out-of-staters looking to escape.

And what are they escaping?

Here are a few online reviews from “vacationers” in the Potomac Highlands during the month of March:

“We had a great experience at your luxurious home. We needed this relaxing getaway from everything that has been going on with the coronavirus ...”

Or how about this one: “Perfect tiny little place for a short getaway. We were trying to breathe some fresh air away from the city in these weird times of pandemic and that was perfect ...”

Upon checking area properties offered on one of the most popular online rental sites, it looks like a good many are not hosting guests, but not all. One property in a neighboring county headlined its page with “Quarantine in the Mountains.”

Even though the governor’s office has deemed hotels/motels as essential businesses, it doesn’t seem essential to be hosting people from other states at a time of crisis because they want to get away from their virus-ridden locality.

We have to ask ourselves ... Are they bringing the virus here? How many are stopping at gas stations, convenience stores, grocery stores, etc. while here? How much are they consuming when groceries and necessary household items are already scarce? Who is cleaning up after these people? If they get sick will they have cell phone service if they are staying in a remote location? Now is a difficult time for small businesses and the hotel/motel, vacation rental business is no exception; however taking advantage of the pandemic by allowing interstate travel and accommodations is unacceptable and highly detrimental to those who live here full time.

In fact, the governor has asked out-of-state homeowners/visitors who come to West Virginia, to self-quarantine for 14 days or risk a visit from law enforcement. As hard as we try, we cannot stop the spread of COVID-19 if people from compromised areas in other states are driving up to our doorstep and staying for a few days or weeks.

The self assurance that they could never be the cause of spreading the virus and complete lack of respect for the residents of the state of West Virginia makes us even more vulnerable than we thought possible.

Not every lodging owner, however, is making a bundle on this, and in fact many are losing money because of ccellations en mass.

Sarah Moomau, owner of Fort Hill Motel in Petersburg, said “the impact of the COVID-19 invasion has been devastating to the lodging business as it has to most other small businesses. With the mild winter and river stockings our occupancy rates have been high, but with the arrival of the COVID-19 virus most people have canceled their plans to travel to our area. We have precautionary measures in place, our lobby is closed and if lodging arrangements are necessary, they are being made over the phone only.” Unforeseen things happen and people, such as medical personnel, may need a place to stay, so it’s good that places like Fort Hill Motel are remaining open.

A big thank you to all those hotel/motel and vacation rental property owners who have done the right thing by stopping further bookings or accepting cancellations and returning deposits, and shame of the rest who’ve taken advantage of the situation to line their own pockets and endanger us all.

Welcome to the letter to the editor page.

Petersburg, WV

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Editor - Camille Howard;
News Editor - Erin Camp;
Advertising Manager - Tara Warner Pratt; 
Graphic Designer - Jesse Hedrick;
Print Shop Manager - Richard Knight; 
Bookkeeping - Peggy Hughes;
Circulation - Mary Simmons

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