Justice says mandatory mask wearing “may be coming” next week

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice, describing himself as “terribly concerned,” said Thursday he’s seriously considering mandating masks to be worn in public buildings in West Virginia where social distancing cannot be achieved.

Gov. Jim Justice

Justice said he’ll make the decision early next week after seeing where the state’s COVID-19 numbers go over the weekend.

“I wanted to give you notice of something that may be coming,” Justice said.

He said the possible mandate wouldn’t include outdoor activities or the privacy of one’s home.

“West Virginia we do not want to end up being Florida or Texas or Arizona where they can’t stop this thing,” Justice said.

Residents of 23 states are required to wear a face mask or face covering in public as coronavirus cases continue to increase. Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott issued an order on Thursday requiring people to wear face coverings in counties with 20 or more positive cases.

“Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another — and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces. Likewise, large gatherings are a clear contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases. Restricting the size of groups gatherings will strengthen Texas’ ability to corral this virus and keep Texans safe.”

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported Thursday morning there have now been 3,006 positive COVID-19 cases  in the Mountain Sate since early March with 585 cases listed as active as of Thursday. The daily positive test rate is 1.81 percent. The state reported 74 new cases Wednesday, a one day high, but Justice said Thursday that was mainly because of additional testing.

West Virginia has seen an increase in cases since the vacation season began but positive test rates remain below other states. Justice said the state can’t let up its guard.

“My gut tells me that if we don’t watch out in West Virginia we’re going to get in real trouble.”

Justice was not specific on what he considers a public building. He did mention work locations, restaurants and bars as being part of the mandate although he said masks wouldn’t be necessary at work locations where socially distancing can be maintained.

Justice said he understands the opposition to a possible mask mandate.

“I get the opposition I really do, but it is my job to protect you,” Justice said.

The governor was asked why not make the mask move before the holiday weekend, he said he wants to continue to review the numbers and give state residents time to prepare for a possible mandate.

“We will visit this next week but I wanted to give you notice that right now I am terribly concerned about what’s coming. And this situation, we’re not going to be able to stop it and it is going to come to West Virginia,” Justice said.

Justice’s next media briefing is expected Monday at the state capitol.

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