CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Comparing the more than 240,000-plus COVID-19 deaths in the U.S to the more than 58,000 Americans who were killed in the Vietnam War over 13 years, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Friday “we have got to realize what we’re dealing with here.”
Following a third day of more than 700 new cases in the state, with a record numbers of residents(339) hospitalized, Gov. Justice announced he will be issuing several executive orders.
Indoor Face Covering Order:
The first order, which will go into effect Saturday at midnight, will require that face coverings must be worn indoors in all public buildings at all times. The order does not apply to children under 9 or those with legitimate breathing problems. It also does not apply to restaurants during eating and drinking. The order will be “ultra mandatory,” Justice said. The previous order allowed for masks to be removed if social distancing was possible.
“With the avalanche of people across this land that are saying ‘wear a mask,’ it’s just silly to be in a public building, with strangers, walking around with no mask on. It’s silly! What skin off your nose is it? I mean really and truly, how big a deal is it to just wear a mask when you go in a building? I mean how hard could it possibly be?” Justice asked.
The governor called upon all owners and managers of businesses to step up and enforce this, or the next step will be that businesses will be shut down, he warned. If people come into a business and refuse to wear a mask, Justice encouraged businesses to call police. The governor has been advised by his legal counsel that people who don’t follow his mandate can be charged with obstruction of justice, he said.
Earlier Friday, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV called on Gov. Justice to add an enforcement mechanism to the state’s mask order:
“Across West Virginia COVID-19 cases are rising faster than ever before. Public health experts have continued to remind us that wearing a mask is the most commonsense, reasonable way to slow the spread of COVID-19 to protect our family, friends and neighbors during this pandemic without shutting down our economy. I encourage Governor Justice to update his public indoor mask order with an enforcement mechanism. I don’t expect an enforcement mechanism will be popular but clearly what we are currently doing is not enough to slow the spread. If we can’t get our COVID-19 cases under control, our businesses, families and communities will suffer. Properly wearing masks allows us the opportunity to keep our schools and economy open. It’s up to us to take action and do our part to keep our fellow West Virginians safe by wearing a mask in public indoor spaces,” said Manchin.
Thanksgiving School Closure Order:
Citing family holiday gatherings, Justice announced another order that from Thanksgiving Day through Thursday, Dec. 3, no schools in the state, public and private, will be allowed to hold in-person classes. Virtual learning and meals will still be happening, officials said.
Winter Sports Season Delay Order:
The governor also announced that winter high school sports seasons will not begin until January 11. Winter recreational, youth, and travel sports, etc, will also be subject to the January 11 date. Fall sports will be allowed to finish their seasons, Justice said. The governor is asking the WVSSAC to reduce its requirement that teams have 14 days of practice, before competitions begin, to seven days, he said.
All band festivals are canceled for the rest of the year, Gov. Justice also announced.
Nursing Home Staff Testing Order:
Under a new order, all nursing home staff throughout the state will be tested twice a week, Justice announced.
Gov. Justice concluded Friday’s briefing by saying: “I get report after report after report you know governor you look really bad and look really tired and all that and I’m sure I’ve probably looked bad all my life and so I’ll just have to live with that. We’re all tired, so what! At the end of the day we’ve gotta just catch another gear and we’ve gotta do everything we possibly can to keep our people safe, to try to educate our kids and to try to absolutely not just devastate our lifestyle. Help us in every way you can West Virginia.”