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Justice announces statewide indoor face covering requirement

Gov. Jim Justice joined West Virginia health leaders and other officials last Monday for his latest daily press briefing regarding the State’s COVID-19 response.

After West Virginia experienced its highest daily total of new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, Gov. Justice announced Monday that he has issued an executive order that will establish a statewide indoor face covering requirement.

The order requires all West Virginians age 9 and older to wear a face covering at all indoor public places where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.

The requirement does not apply to anyone who has trouble breathing or anyone who is otherwise unable to remove their own face covering without assistance.

“I have told you all along we were going to watch our numbers,” Gov. Justice said. “In the last few days, our positive case numbers have now moved to a level to where if we don’t make a move right now, we’re going to be in a world of hurt.

“I know it’s an inconvenience, but it’s not going to be much of an inconvenience,” Gov. Justice continued. “If you don’t decide to wear the face covering for yourself, if you don’t decide to wear it for one of your loved ones or your friends, do it for the 95 West Virginians that have died, do it for the 95 people that we’ve lost.” The Governor clarified that the requirement to wear face coverings does not apply inside residents’ homes or vehicles. Also, the requirement does not apply when consuming food or beverages inside a restaurant.

The requirement does not apply anywhere outside. However, state health leaders still strongly suggest that residents wear a face covering when outside in circumstances where proper social distance is difficult to maintain.

For children ages 2 years old through 8 years old, face coverings are not required. However, it is recommended that parents or guardians use their best judgment as to when to assist their children, ages 2 through 8, with wearing a face covering.

Under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, children younger than 2 years old, anyone who has trouble breathing, and anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance should not wear face coverings and are exempt from the face covering requirement.

Face shields are an acceptable substitute for those with physical conditions that may cause them to be unable to properly wear a face covering.

The indoor face covering requirement went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, July 7.

Guidance documents that are a part of the Governor’s reopening plan – West Virginia Strong – The Comeback – will be revised to reflect the new requirement.

Also on Monday, Gov. Justice’s General Counsel Brain Abraham added that, while there is a law in West Virginia that prohibits the use of face coverings in public, there is an exemption to that law for emergency situations such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Abraham went on to explain that the new face covering requirement does not restrict the right of West Virginians to carry concealed weapons.

“As far as West Virginia goes, there will be no prohibition on the wearing of a mask and the concealed carrying of a firearm at the same time,” Abraham said. “We would urge all West Virginians to check with other states before you would travel out-of-state and do the same thing, as each state’s laws might not be the same as West Virginia’s.”

Additionally Monday, Gov. Justice provided another update on his initiative to test all inmates and employees within the State’s network of correctional facilities for COVID-19.

The most recent testing results showed zero active COVID-19 cases among all inmates and residents across West Virginia.

There remains one active COVID-19 case among corrections employees and contract staff.

More than 10,000 inmates and 4,000 employees were tested in total as part of the Governor’s initiative.

In Greenbrier County as of Monday, July 6, there are 71 confirmed cases, 3 suspected cases, 49 recovered cases, 22 current active cases, 2 hospitalized, and 3 deaths.