Face masks must be worn indoors in West Virginia beginning Tuesday

CHARLESTON – The wearing of face masks in indoor public areas will be mandatory at midnight in West Virginia, Governor Jim Justice declared Monday.

On the heels of the highest single-day of new COVID-19 cases – the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced 130 new cases Sunday – Justice said that wearing face masks or facial coverings in indoor areas will be required by an executive order.

The order will apply to people ages 9 and older.

Striking a somber tone, Justice said the state would be “in a world of hurt” if residents don’t begin wearing masks in indoor public places.

“What am I mandating today is an executive order that all West Virginians ages 9 or above wear a face covering at all confined indoor places provided where social (physical) distancing cannot be maintained,” Justice said. “West Virginia, look around: The numbers are moving in a significantly wrong way. We have got to move, and we have got to move now.”

The governor pleaded with West Virginians to wear face masks for the 95 people who have died of COVID-19 and suggested that if people don’t comply, another economic shutdown could result.

“If you don’t decide to wear mask for yourself, and if you don’t decide to wear a mask for your loved ones or for your friends, please do it for the 95 that have died – do it for the 95 that we’ve lost,” Justice said. “If we don’t (wear masks), the next thing that’s right around the horizon, is we will have to pull back and start shutting things back down. You know that’s going to happen. We’re the oldest, most chronically ill, and we’re sitting in the sweet spot that can cause more problems.”

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s ‘coronavirus czar’ said there’s been a 234 percent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks.

“That’s the highest amount we’ve seen so far that’s been community-related and not congregate spread,” he said.

Congregate spread refers to an outbreak in a prison, nursing home or other facility where people are densely ‘congregated.’

Marsh also pointed to another measure that deals with how quickly the virus is spreading, referred to as the R-Naught or R0.

“If the R-Naught is below 1, the spread is decreasing, and we had been at a 0.6 R-Naught. But if the R-Naught is over 1, that means the virus is spreading, and right now, we’re at the seventh highest R-Naught level in the country at 1.27,” Marsh said. “We’re seeing a sharp increase.”

Justice said if employees and patrons in public indoor areas all wear masks, those actions would reduce the virus spread by 11 percent, but if no masks are worn, the rate of spread could jump up by 84 percent.

He pointed to Texas as a COVID-19 epicenter, issuing a stark warning that the Mountain State could easily “become Texas.”

“You see an absolute catastrophe there,” Justice said. “Do you realize, West Virginia, that on June 6, on a percentage of population basis, Texas had about the same or fewer deaths than West Virginia? That’s 30 days ago. Texas – the epicenter of where you see this situation, where it’s a disaster beyond belief.”

“We surely can’t become Texas, but we surely can become Texas very, very quickly,” Justice opined. “We’re the oldest, we’re the sickest, and my job is to protect you in every way I can. I know there’s going to be pushback.”

Issuing perhaps his bleakest warning yet, Justice said wearing a mask “is a lot easier than standing over the casket of a loved one who has passed away from COVID-19.”

Finally, the governor reassured people that “this isn’t a forever thing.”

“This isn’t a right that’s going to be taken away from you forevermore,” he said. “This is a bridge to a vaccine, and we might have one in a couple months. I surely know this is not a popular thing, but I am here to do the right thing.”

The governor’s general counsel says West Virginia law during civil emergencies does allow residents to wear face masks and carry concealed weapons simultaneously, a concern Justice said his office had received multiple calls regarding.

Here’s a link to the Centers for Disease Control’s list of studies linking mask-wearing to preventing or slowing the spread of COVID-19.

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