After a slew of criticism, officials from The Greenbrier released a statement in regards to a video at the resort of a New Year’s Eve party.
The video in question appeared to show an environment that was in stark contrast to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s business restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Statement from Terry Miller, vice president of operations and chairman of COVID-19 Task Force:
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic The Greenbrier has always been in strict compliance with all health guidelines,” said Terry Miller, vice president of operations and chairman of the Greater Greenbrier COVID-19 Task Force. “We continue to be in constant contact with the Greenbrier County Health Department regarding the guidelines, contact tracing, social distancing and mask mandates.”
In the released statement, Miller continued, “During the evening, all guidelines were strictly complied with, including socially distanced dining, no live entertainment or dance floors, and face coverings were required at all times when not actively eating or drinking. In all dining venues the chairs were spaced six feet apart. Our Casino followed all West Virginia Lottery regulations, including no more than two patrons per table, patrons were not allowed to touch playing cards, and every other slot machine was disabled.”
“All these protocols were expanded across all restaurants and bars across our facility,” Miller continued in the statement. “Upon review of the published video from the New Year’s Eve gathering in the Upper Lobby, some of the guests in attendance were not wearing face coverings. Those guests appeared to be actively drinking without a face covering, which is allowed per guidelines.”
“One of the event managers said that people started gathering in the Upper Lobby around 11:45 p.m. and by 12:03 a.m. they had dispersed. The Greenbrier has always taken the COVID-19 pandemic and takes its impact on our guests and staff very seriously. We continue to screen all team members, guests, vendors and contractors before they are allowed to enter Resort property,” Miller said, concluding the released statement.
Earlier this week, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice a wide range of questions during his Jan. 4 coronavirus media-briefing, regarding the New Year’s Eve celebration held last week at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs. Gov. Justice purchased the resort in 2009 and his daughter, Dr. Jill Justice, oversees day-to-day operations.
Some 400 guests attended the party on Thursday night, at a price of $175 per guest. Shortly after, several videos surfaced on social media showing partygoers not socially distancing, with many not wearing masks, in clear violation of the public health and safety protocols set forth by the CDC, as well as executive mandates issued by Justice himself. To complicate matters for the governor, the controversial party took place just one day after Justice announced that all elementary and middle school students would be returning to school for in-person learning on Jan.19.
The backlash on social media was both fierce and immediate:
“Do your part and slow the spread,” one comment reads. “What … was that party at The Greenbrier the other night? You want to send kids and teachers to school while behaving so irresponsibly?”
Another comment stated, “It is crucial you stop throwing large parties with lots of unmasked people.”
And yet another comment reads, “Says the same man that delays basketball until March but there’s a huge party at The Greenbrier. Makes sense. Adults do whatever and kids suffer.”
Justice, who has said numerous times during his four-years as governor that he has very little involvement in the operations of The Greenbrier, was not present at the New Year’s Eve celebration.
When first asked on Monday about his reaction to the gathering, Justice became defensive, referring to the backlash as a “political hit job,” before defending the resort’s decision to host the party.
“Let’s just call it what it is,” Justice began. “The bottom line of the whole thing, it’s a hit at me from the standpoint of a political hit at me. That’s all there is to it. [ ] It’s just a slap at an employer that’s employing 1,500 people with great jobs there.”
Justice went on to say that he was home in bed at the time of The Greenbrier’s party.
“Protocols are in place,” Justice continued to say. “And I will promise you to God above that The Greenbrier is absolutely following every protocol that you can possibly follow. You gotta remember this too: there’s 1,500 employees and there’s probably close to that in guests that are there. And they’re spread out and they’re absolutely doing everything under the sun. Somebody is gonna do something somewhere to where somebody can take a photo and then try to trash people about it.”
The videos appear to stand in stark contradiction to Justice’s assurances that The Greenbrier is “following every protocol.”
When asked how West Virginians should feel after watching the videos, Justice said, “I’ve not been in the interim part of The Greenbrier hotel for who knows, maybe a year or longer. I’m not gonna’ apologize to you for employing 1,500 people there and doing the work that we’ve done. [ ] I can tell you that the protocols are in place. [ ] The health department came and went through all that. There are people eating there. In every situation, you can come up with something. I’m not making any excuses or dodging any questions. The Greenbrier, of all places, plan it over and over and over. [ ] Could they have done better in this situation, well probably so. But I don’t know all the details. [ ] But to hit back at me about this, well, there’s 1,500 people there.”
Justice was also asked about the identity of The Greenbrier employees responsible for the planning and facilitation of the celebration, and if he would make those identities available to the media.
“I don’t have any idea who the planners were or who put it all together,” Justice said. “But I’ll be glad to put it all together and get you the information. I’ll call my daughter and she’ll put the information together and get it to you all. I surely don’t have anything to hide.”
Justice concluded the briefing by saying, “Evidently we surely shouldn’t have done what happened at The Greenbrier. [ ] Things like this are gonna happen, they just plain are. [ ] I could say ‘gosh dog, I really think it’s not fair’. But in this job, it really just echoes all around the place. We expect our people, and myself, to do good. And we can’t really expect [a pass in exchange.] We don’t need a pass. I don’t need a pass. That’s all there is to it. I don’t need patted on the back or told how great we’ve done, I don’t need any of that. I’m going to continue to try to do the greatness as best I possibly can and at the same time, if there’s something wrong with somewhere in my neighborhood or that I own or whatever, then we’ll get it straightened up. That’s all there is to it.”