by Kate Shunney
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced last Friday, May 14 that he was dropping the state’s mask mandate for vaccinated residents under new CDC guidance. The Centers for Disease Control late last week said masks were optional given vaccination rates and new COVID case data.
Gov. Justice said that anyone who is fully vaccinated against COVID can participate in indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, regardless of crowd size.
“Our face covering requirement no longer applies to you if you are fully vaccinated,” Gov. Justice said.
The Governor emphasized that the lifting of the face covering requirement only applies to those who have been fully vaccinated; meaning that at least two weeks have elapsed since the administration of a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or that at least two weeks have elapsed since the administration of a first dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The Statewide Indoor Face Covering Requirement is still in effect for all West Virginians who are not yet fully vaccinated, and will remain in effect for these individuals until June 20.
Under the change, any private business or school system can still require individuals to wear a mask, regardless of the CDC’s new guidelines.
Morgan County Schools will continue to require masks for students, staff and visitors until the close of the school year on May 28.
“It’s a great day, from the standpoint of us that are fully vaccinated, to be able to walk around and not worry about this crazy mask stuff, even though they have saved so many lives,” Gov. Justice said. “I don’t know if there’s a motivator out there that could possibly be any better than those for those that have not been vaccinated. For crying out loud, if you don’t like the masks, go get vaccinated as quickly as you can so you can share in this enjoyment.”
State COVID-19 pandemic response leaders have set goals of vaccinating 65% of all eligible West Virginians, 75% of West Virginians age 50 and older, and 85% of West Virginians age 65 and older with at least one dose by West Virginia’s 158th birthday on June 20. That’s the day the governor has said he’ll lift the mask mandate entirely.
Health officials have said from the beginning of the pandemic that the rapid spread of COVID-19 respiratory disease would slow to a manageable level once a certain threshold of individuals were vaccinated against it, or had antibodies against the disease from having contracted it.
Additionally Friday, Gov. Justice announced that after the U.S. FDA and the U.S. CDC both authorized the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use in children ages 12-15 earlier this week, West Virginia vaccine distribution officials have now begun administering vaccinations to children in this age range.
“We have 15 counties that are scheduled to hold clinics next week. The Department of Education estimates that there are 78,000 kids that are eligible in our schools,” Gov. Justice said. “We will offer vaccines to all students 12-15 years of age with permission of their guardians, and all of these will also offer vaccines to all eligible West Virginians as they come in, whether they be other students, parents, educators, whomever they may be.”
All West Virginians interested in being vaccinated are urged to visit vaccinate.wv.gov or call the West Virginia Vaccine Info Line: 1-833-734-0965. The info line is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
West Virginia is offering a $100 incentive to all residents ages 16-35 to encourage younger residents to get vaccinated. More information on this program will be provided as it becomes available. The $100 incentive will be retroactive, meaning all West Virginians ages 16-35 who have already been vaccinated will also receive their $100 incentive.
Park site vaccinations
The Governor also offered a reminder that free COVID-19 vaccination clinics will be held at all West Virginia State Parks and State Forests between now and Memorial Day. Several state park and forest locations will host clinics prior to Memorial Day. Then, on Memorial Day weekend, all West Virginia State Parks and Forests will offer vaccines to employees, employees’ families, and park guests.
Details will be posted at wvstateparks.com as they become available, said state officials.
Gov. Justice announced that West Virginia has agreed to transfer approximately 6,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the State of Delaware.
“We’ve had them for a little bit too long and they’re set to expire in early June,” Gov. Justice said. “We want to help take care of our neighbors.”
At this time, Delaware has no federal allocations from which to order.
The transfer of these soon-to-expire doses will have no impact on vaccine distribution in West Virginia.
“We currently have on hand 33,000 doses of Pfizer, 20,000 doses of Moderna, and 20,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson, and we can immediately continue to order hundreds of thousands of doses,” Gov. Justice said. “We’re good to go.”