Gov. Justice says mask order is working, offers further details on school reopening plans


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – During his COVID-19 briefing on Friday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said he believes his mandatory mask order is working, pointing to some improving coronavirus data in the state.

Despite the improvements, Justice again voiced concerns about the number of cases in southern West Virginia and again attributed many of those cases to residents traveling to Myrtle Beach and other out-of-state destinations. State health officials also noted that they have not seen any instances of out-of-state tourists bringing COVID-19 into West Virginia.

There are 122 people hospitalized in the state due to coronavirus, Justice said. There are also seven church outbreaks in five counties (Cabell, Grant, Logan, Mason and Taylor) for a total of 89 cases, according to the governor.

Justice and state officials further detailed the school re-opening plan they announced on Wednesday. Officials stressed that classrooms will look different this year. Assigned seating and keeping children together in the same small groups is being encouraged, officials said. Having significant numbers of students taking advantage of virtual learning will allow for more social distancing of students who are attending school in person. Students in grades 6–12 will be better at social distancing than younger students, but that is balanced by data that shows children up to age 10 don’t spread coronavirus as much as older children and adults, according to officials. The more students and teachers in schools wear masks, the better, they also said.

Gov. Justice also provided an example of the county-by-county alert map that will help determine whether schools are held virtually or in-person.

“There won’t be a place that’s more scrutinized and more safe than our schools,” Justice said.

In terms of teachers and service personnel, they are needed to report to work, but officials will work with staff members who have medical concerns. Justice and state school officials said that communication with unions for teachers and service personnel is good.

About $200 million in CARES Act funding is going to help the education system, state officials said.

Officials also announced that residents can begin submitting school clothing voucher applications on Sept. 1. This year, recipients will get either an EBT card or a check, instead of a voucher, and will be able to shop online. Some residents will automatically receive the benefits without having to apply.

When asked if he agrees with comments made by President Trump earlier this week about childrens’ immunity to COVID-19, Justice said that children have shown to be more resistant, but they aren’t immune. Justice would never say all kids are immune and believes children “can surely get this,” he said. Justice said he does not believe that coronavirus will go away until vaccines or drugs are developed, and that we will have to live and deal with risk as best as we possibly can until then.

When asked about a recent political ad, the governor said he “doesn’t deal with his campaign.” He went on to say that his opponent, Ben Salango, is “young and tremendously inexperienced.”

The governor provided updates on pandemic funding, saying that $7.6 million has gone to small businesses and $72 million has been distributed to 166 cities and counties.

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