West Virginia governor mandates masks starting at midnight

by Kate Shunney

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has issued an Executive Order that requires those in the state to wear a face covering while in buildings outside of their homes. The order takes effect at midnight and will be in force on Tuesday, July 7.

Gov. Justice said he is making the move following several days of increased cases of COVID-19, a potentially serious respiratory disease.  As of Monday afternoon, there were 3,356 confirmed cases of the respiratory disease in West Virginia.

In the week of June 29-July 5, the state confirmed 505 new cases of COVID-19. The DHHR reports there are 826 active cases of the disease right now. According to their online reports, 2,435 people have recovered from the disease and 95 state residents have died from it.

Morgan County’s case numbers have remained steady at 19 for several weeks, with no active cases now and none added in the last week.

Neighboring Berkeley County added 32 cases last week and Jefferson County added 21 cases.

On Monday during the press conference where he announced the mandate, Justice said widespread face coverings would drop the state’s risk factor for the spread of the disease exponentially.

“West Virginia, we are absolutely in a situation where we have got to make a move right now. If we don’t make a move — and I know there’s going to be pushback — if we don’t do that and don’t do it now, we are going to be in a world of hurt,” Justice said.

He drew parallels between case numbers in Texas 30 days ago, and their sharp increase in cases today.

“We can become Texas very, very quickly,” Justice said.

He said without face coverings, the current active cases in West Virginia could multiply quickly and without detection. If that happened, state hospitals would be overwhelmed.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s “coronavirus czar” said masks aren’t needed outdoors when individuals can be physically spaced apart. He noted that indoors, certain activities are known to spread the respiratory virus easily and face coverings can block that.

“That’s really what we’re trying to guard against,” said Marsh. “This is really about us committing to taking care of each other.”

Justice said without a mask mandate, the state would have to look at shutting things down again — from businesses to public facilities.

“Don’t let all the good go down the drain over something as simple and small as this,” Justice said in his address to state residents as he put on a face mask.

The governor said he knows the mandate will be unpopular. At this point in time, “it’s the only smart thing to do,” he said.

Gov. Justice confirmed there are no civil penalties at this time for not complying with the mask mandate. His general counsel also said the July 6 Executive Order would allow someone carrying a concealed weapon to wear a face covering, which is normally prohibited.