West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has provided a steady hand at the helm during the pandemic. He has listened to the right people and followed sound science in making the best decisions over the last 18 months to try to keep West Virginians safe.
His choices have not always been popular, but that is expected when trying to balance conflicting interests. As the saying goes, “You’re darned if you do, and darned if you don’t.”
Now Justice finds himself with another conundrum: Should he reinstate a mask mandate?
He initially issued a face covering order last summer for individuals aged nine and older when in confined indoor public spaces. As conditions improved, Justice lifted the mask mandate in May for the vaccinated and then removed the requirement for all June 20.
But now Covid cases are rising again, as are hospitalizations. The numbers the last few weeks indicate a trend, not just a blip. The stalled rate of vaccinations and the declining effectiveness of vaccines administered earlier this year point to a continued increase in the number of Covid cases.
Justice has mentioned during several of his recent media briefings that he understands reinstating a mask mandate could become necessary, but he has made no final decision.
“If need be, we’ll move,” Justice said this week. “But right now, we do not think we have to move in that direction.”
Justice knows bringing back masks would trigger a strong pushback from West Virginians who are either worn out on masks or simply do not believe masks are helpful.
“We’re absolutely trying to appease both groups (maskers and anti-maskers),” Justice said. “And the reason is, we’re trying to keep everybody moving together.”
And that is a nearly impossible task. “Without any question, I’m trying to skate right across the razor blade,” he said.
An order, even a law, is only as effective as the willingness of people to follow it. If Justice issued a new mask mandate and half of all West Virginians simply refused to follow it, what recourse would the state have?
Compliance would depend on the majority of West Virginians acting in the best interest of themselves and others they come in contact with.
It may come to that. The virus surged last November through February. We are better prepared this year because vaccines are readily available. But only 50 percent of all West Virginians are fully vaccinated and children under 12 still cannot take the shot.
Masks, when worn properly, do help reduce the spread. Justice knows that because he has consistently followed best practices during the pandemic. His reluctance to reinstate a mask mandate is understandable because of the ruckus it will cause.
However, his responsibility, as he has demonstrated throughout this ordeal, is not to “appease both groups,” but rather to continue to make sound decisions that are in the best interest of the state during this pandemic.