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Gov. Justice Shrugs Off Criticism Over Crowded New Year’s Party At Resort He Owns

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Gov. Jim Justice shrugged off criticism Monday regarding a crowded New Year’s Eve party at a resort he owns. The party, which was documented by an attendee and can be seen in a video posted online, appeared to break safety protocols implemented by his administration and warnings offered by health experts advising the governor on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Video posted to social media over the weekend showed a large crowd at what appeared to be The Greenbrier, an upscale hotel and resort in White Sulphur Springs owned by Justice.

In the video some attendees are without a mask and few are socially distancing.

Both tactics have been strongly suggested to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with Justice having issued an executive order mandating the use of masks while indoors. Another executive order that capped social gatherings at 25 people — issued by Justice in July — remains in effect.

The video drew swift criticism from members of the public, high school athletic coaches and Democrats in the West Virginia Legislature, among others.

Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, was one lawmaker who posted the video of the party and took aim at Justice.

“[T]he Governor won’t let high school sports begin until March 1. Kids continue to sacrifice while adults celebrate,” Ihlenfeld wrote in the tweet.

Justice said Monday that criticisms of the event were politically motivated.

“Let’s just call it what it is. The bottom line of the whole thing is it’s a hit at me from the standpoint of a political hit in me. It’s all there is to it,” said Justice, in responding to the first in a string of questions from reporters about the party.

Justice also went on to say that safety protocols implemented by his administration are adhered to at The Greenbrier. But he also stated that he hasn’t been to the area in the resort where the party took place in “more than a year, maybe longer than that.”

“I’m not going to apologize for employing 1,500 people there and doing the work we’ve done in lots of different places,” he said about continued operations at the resort.

Before fielding questions about the New Year’s party, Justice read the ages and home counties of the 78 West Virginians who have died since his last briefing, which was held on Wednesday, Dec. 30. To date, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reports 1,396 residents have died from the coronavirus.

Asked how he would respond to criticisms from secondary school coaches about allowing such an event to take place when winter sports have been delayed until March 1, Justice did not offer an answer, but instead said he was continually trying to come up with more ideas on how to quickly defeat the pandemic, which has loomed over the state since March.

“I don’t know how to answer. You know, I mean, if you don’t think I’m pulling the rope, then, you know, you really got a screw loose,” Justice said.

Over the weekend following the New Year’s holiday, West Virginia Public Broadcasting sought information — including who organized the party and the number of attendees — from a person representing The Greenbrier. That request for information has not yet been returned.

Justice said he was unaware of the person or group who threw the event or rented the space at The Greenbrier but said he would ask his daughter Jill Justice — who has reportedly been overseeing operations of the business — to look into it and make the information public.

During Monday’s virtual news briefing, West Virginia Public Broadcasting also sought a reaction to the party from health experts advising Justice, including coronavirus car Dr. Clay Marsh, state health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Bill Crouch.

Amjad, who said she had seen the video of the event, was the only one to field the question.

“Like any events over New Year’s Eve we do caution people [about getting] together. I think some people in the videos have masks on, some do not,” Amjad said. “But we do understand, New Year’s Eve was people getting together. So anytime people get together, we know we do have concern.”

Amjad suggested that those who attended events for the holidays get tested for the coronavirus.

Many health experts in the state — and elsewhere around the nation — have pleaded with people to not attend such events, warning they could cause a further uptick in the spread of the virus, which has continued since Thanksgiving.

According to state health officials, the total number of cases has more than doubled since Thanksgiving, when 44,180 cases had been reported. As of Monday, 91,886 cases have been recorded since mid-March. Of the total number of reported cases, 27,362 are considered active.