Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday he is not lifting the mask mandate amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

CHARLESTON — On the one-year anniversary of West Virginia’s first COVID-19 case, Gov. Jim Justice said the state should not “jump the gun” with reopening.

Justice opened his briefing by praising the state for everything that’s been accomplished so far. He touted the state’s top spot among other states when it comes to COVID relief and vaccine distribution.

However, he warned West Virginians, saying that we’re not in the clear from the coronavirus just yet.

“We’ve got to be smart here. We’ve got to be cautious,” Justice said. “All across America we’re seeing this (virus) heat back up.”

While we have the luxury of low case numbers and high vaccine rates, Justice said he sticks by his decision to have West Virginians continue to wear masks. He said he’s not interested in making a political statement or a “macho move.”

Justice sat and read the ages and counties of the 34 West Virginians that passed away due to COVID since his last address on Monday. After which, we took a serious tone.

“West Virginia, you have to listen to me. This thing can tick back up,” he said. “Be careful and wear your mask just a little while longer.”

Justice’s remarks came on the same day that DHHR’s daily COVID update reported 19 new deaths and a statewide total of 2,565 deaths from COVID-19.

Justice was joined by a panel of four experts to make sense of some of the new case numbers and hospitalizations that are slowly starting to creep back up. Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s COVID-19 Czar, showed that Europe is experiencing a third spike of infections because of the new virus variants that are spreading.

“West Virginia, we are not out of the woods yet,” said Marsh. “Make sure that when you’re out with your friends you’re very careful to wear your mask and physically distanced.”

Marsh made warned that these new strains are especially dangerous for younger people, the majority of which have not been vaccinated. “Be smart, it will save a life,” was Marsh’s final statement.

Also on the panel was former West Virginia National Guard Maj. Gen. Jim Hoyer, who is now acting as the director of the West Virginia Joint InterAgency Task Force, which oversees the majority of the logistics of vaccine distribution.

This week, Hoyer said, the agency is working with critical workforce employers to set up mobile clinics to get shots in the arms of frontline workers and retailers. He’s also working to vaccinate the elderly population who still haven’t been vaccinated.

“We want to get the additional people who either won’t sign up centrally or need a little motivation from their primary care provider,” said Hoyer.

Dr. Ayne Amjad, a state health officer and Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch from the W.Va. Department of Health & Human Resources were also present and encouraged residents to get out, get tested, get vaccinated and take advantage of these free services.

Justice agreed and said even if someone is just feeling anxiety about the virus, go get tested. That’s what it’s there for, he said.

West Virginia is one of the leading states in vaccines administered and the age restriction for the vaccine continues to fall. Any West Virginian can pre-register for the vaccine by calling 1-833-734-0965 or by visiting vaccinate.wv.gov.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522.

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