West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said on Monday he is going to require the mandatory wearing of face coverings or masks when people are inside buildings in public outside their home.
The governor made the announcement Monday during a news conference after he had hinted last week that he may have to require mask wearing. Numbers continued to rise over the weekend, with more than 300 positive coronavirus cases reported in the state since his news conference Thursday afternoon last week. Active case numbers have jumped during the period by nearly 250 – from 580 to 826.
“As far as wearing some level of face covering, absolutely it is at this point in time, in my opinion, the only thing you can do,” Justice said. “The only smart thing to do.”
Justice he is signing an executive order that takes effect at 12 a.m. Tuesday, July 7.
The executive order requires all West Virginians age 9 or above to wear a face covering within all confined indoor places provided social distancing cannot be maintained. It does not apply to children under age of 9 or anyone who has trouble breathing or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance.
When asked how the face covering or mask requirement would be enforced, Justice said he is asking everyone to voluntarily comply.
“There is no criminal offense and as far as us hauling you off to jail. We are not going to haul you off to jail. I ask you as West Virginians to respect all those out there,” he said.
The governor said the last thing he wanted to do was to mandate masks, but he said “it is the very thing I want to do the most because I know in my heart if we don’t we are going to have funeral after funeral.”
Justice said he does not want to see an explosion of coronavirus numbers in the state similar to what has happened in Texas.
“I’m telling you West Virginia, if we don’t do this and do this now, we are going to be in a world of hurt,” the governor said.
Justice said he is just asking for any type of face covering that protects you and protects others, whether that is a mask or homemade covering.
To demonstrate what he is asking state residents to do, the governor slipped on a surgical mask during the news conference.
“This inconvenience is next to nothing – wear your masks,” Justice said.
Justice said he knows the decision is not a popular one, but he emphasized it “is not a right being taken away from people for evermore.” He said the measure is a temporary move to bridge the gap until a vaccine is available to combat the coronavirus.