Dave Mistich Published

Gov. Justice Considering Mask Mandate For West Virginians While In Buildings Outside Of Homes


Gov. Jim Justice is warning that he may mandate masks be worn in public beginning next week. That warning comes as West Virginia reported its highest daily number of new coronavirus cases since mid-May. 


In a virtual news briefing held Thursday, Justice said he is considering an order that would mandate residents wear masks in buildings outside of their homes. 


“I want to give you notice that, right now, I am terribly concerned about what’s coming,” he said. 


Justice said he will revisit the issue and make a decision next week, possibly as soon as Monday.


“The way you stop this is masks — wearing your mask,” Justice said. “I want everyone to know that I am very, very seriously considering that, at the beginning of next week. We may very well have to go to mandatory masks in buildings, you know, other than your homes.”


For weeks, Justice has urged residents to wear masks but has been reluctant to make them mandatory. At times, he has called the issue “divisive,” although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that masks be worn in public to prevent the spread of the virus.


“This recommendation is based on what we know about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, paired with emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows cloth face coverings reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth,”  according to the CDC’s website. 


While mask-wearing has become a partisan debate in recent months, prominent national Republicans such as Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have both recently become vocal on the issue by asking Americans to wear masks in public. 


Earlier this week, West Virginia Republican Party chairwoman Melody Potter wrote on Facebook that she wants people to be “considerate” of her decision not to wear a mask. 


Potter, who cited West Virginia state code that makes masks illegal — with a few exceptions, including emergencies — also quoted one of America’s Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry, and wrote, “Give me liberty or give me death.”


Asked to respond to the leader of his party, Justice said he thinks highly of Potter, but he pushed back on the idea of not wearing masks. 


“I would ask her — if we go through a mandatory masking and everything to go in our buildings and everything if we cannot social distance — I would ask Melody not to go into buildings,” Justice said. 


Justice went on to say that he and his advisers will review testing data over the weekend. He added that the decision on whether to mandate masks would not be influenced by politics. 


“We’re going to gather a whole bunch more information — and we’re gonna make the best decision we can make — but I’m going to make the decision. That is the best decision Jim Justice can make,” Justice said. “Not the decision that is the best political decision. Not a decision that is a party decision. It is going to be the decision as to what I think is the very best for all West Virginians.”


At least a dozen states have mandated the use of masks in public spaces in hopes of quelling the spread of the virus. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, issued an order on the matter Wednesday.


The change of tone comes as West Virginia has seen an uptick in cases of the coronavirus in recent weeks. On Thursday, state health officials reported the highest number of new cases since May 23. 


Thirty-eight states are reporting an increase in the number of cases in the past 14 days, according to a data analysis by The New York Times. The U.S. reported more than 50,000 total new cases Wednesday, surpassing records that had been set over the past few days.


As of Thursday morning, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported 93 deaths from COVID-19. The agency reported more than 3,000 cases of the coronavirus.