Gov. Jim Justice followed through on an order for West Virginians to wear face coverings when they enter buildings that aren’t their own homes, but he also said there will be no penalties for those who don’t comply.
“If you don’t take heed, we’re going to have funeral after funeral after funeral,” Justice said.
An executive order goes into effect at midnight Monday. The order falls under the emergency declaration from the Governor’s Office that was first established a few months ago when the state began taking coronavirus precautions.
Justice strongly hinted late last week that such an order would be coming and followed through today. West Virginia now joins a number of other states, including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas, with mandatory mask orders.
The governor said he hadn’t wanted to take this step, but a rising number of cases in West Virginia forced his hand.
The governor, somewhat awkwardly, put on a disposable mask to demonstrate.
“Putting this little nothing on,” he said, “is a whole lot easier than standing over the casket of a loved one who has passed away.”
Justice began Monday’s briefing by announcing two more West Virginia coronavirus deaths, which brings the total to 95.
The two most recent deaths, he said, were related to an outbreak at a Greenbrier County church, and he suggested services there were loose with masks and social distancing.
“I hate the outcome,” Justice said.
“I said when I first heard this, ‘It would be a miracle if we didn’t lose somebody.’ Well, we’ve lost multiples.”
Today he cited other numbers heading in the wrong direction.
Two days ago, West Virginia hit 118 cases, which was a record for one day.
The daily percent positive has moved up to 3.58 percent as of midday today, a number that has risen sharply since the end of June.
Daily hospitalizations in West Virginia hit 41, which was the highest number since late May.
A reproductive rate showing how fast the virus could spread was at 1.26 for West Virginia, among the top few in the nation. If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading.
“We would just ask that West Virginians step up and do this,” said Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard.
“We would not be asking for you to do this if we had not thought that our numbers that were going so well were moving in the wrong direction.”
Justice has emphasized masks as a precaution against the coronavirus for weeks and weeks, but until now he has expressed reluctance to issue a mandate.
Earlier, he said an order would be too divisive among people who favor the step and those who would view an order as a governmental encroachment on personal choices.
“I wanted to say just come on West Virginia, just come on, just wear your mask if you go outside; wear your mask,” Justice said.
But even with the order, Justice said there would be no penalties for those who don’t comply.
“If you choose not to wear a mask, there is no criminal offense,” he said. “As far as us hauling you off to jail, well, we’re not going to haul you off to jail.”
The mask order applies to everyone age 9 and above at all indoor destinations where social distancing can’t be achieved. That wouldn’t apply to people’s own homes.
“If you go to work and you go to work in a building, I expect you to wear a mask as you enter work,” Justice said.
“And then if you’re working in an office where there’s no one else in an office or you’re working in an area that’s completely social distanced, take your mask off. If you get up and go to the water cooler or for a coffee break or whatever it may be, put your mask on. If you go into a retail store, I expect you to wear a mask.”
Kanawha-Charleston Health Officer Sherri Young issued a statement in support of the governor’s mask order.
“Given the increase in COVID-19 cases, I agree with Governor Justice’s decision to require masks or face coverings in public spaces throughout West Virginia,” ” Young stated.
“Masks are most effective at helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 when they’re widely used. I’m pleased to see the governor taking this proactive step to ensure the health and safety of all.”
Young made similar comments Monday morning on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 6, 2020