Emily Allen Published

Justice Issues New COVID-19 Order To Dial Back Social Distancing, Mask Rules


Since first declaring a state of emergency in March 2020, Gov. Jim Justice has issued 91 executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, he signed a new, six-page order, undoing more than two-thirds of what he’s signed into temporary law over the last year.

The governor removed a 100-person cap on social events that’s been in place since March 2021. He’s also reinstating the state’s requirements for unemployment benefits, which he temporarily relaxed in 2020 as the state saw an increase in lay-offs and reduced working hours as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year’s executive orders that relaxed unemployment requirements are set to expire by June 2021, according to the latest order.

“There’s a lot of stuff that was very valuable when we put it in,” Justice said Monday during a regularly scheduled online press briefing. “It’s now lived its time and it’s time to move forward.”

There are still some key provisions that will remain in place, even if they undergo some changes.

All West Virginians more than 9 years old still have to wear a face covering if they’re in a public setting where social distancing is not possible. But, after midnight Monday, Justice’s new order will exempt anyone who is participating in indoor or outdoor physical activity, for sports or exercise.

In his latest directive to West Virginians, Justice kept a handful of orders that suspended regulations of local businesses and health care providers, which increased access to telemedicine and relaxed licensing requirements for nurses seeking work.

Justice said he’s also keeping an order that requires hospitals to be prepared for any surges in COVID-19 cases.

There will still be a “joint agency task force” for handling COVID-19 vaccination efforts, and employees for nursing homes will still have to test every other week.

In counties marked red on the state’s color-coded map for coronavirus spread, athletic teams will be barred from traveling into or out of these counties.

Vaccine Hesitancy and the Johnson and Johnson Pause

West Virginia still has not resumed distribution of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine since pausing that brand’s distribution on Wednesday, April 14.

West Virginia is still doling out shots from Pfizer and Moderna, which both received emergency use authorization from the federal government late last year.

Justice said Monday that the state has more shots than it has arms to put them in, suggesting supply is greater than demand.

State health officials requested that workplaces, high school sports teams, churches and other large organizations coordinate with the state to give out vaccines.

For places that were dependent on J&J doses — namely, correctional facilities — health leaders said Monday they’re still working on a plan to begin offering Moderna and Pfizer vaccines instead.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.