Despite an upward trend in COVID-19 cases and infection rates in the state, Gov. Jim Justice said again Monday that he is not prepared to institute additional measures to curtail the spread of the virus, including mandating wearing face masks in public settings.
“Nobody wants to get into the situation where you make the wearing of masks mandatory,” Justice said during his daily COVID-19 briefing. “We’re going to divide people.”
Justice’s statement comes following a two-week period when new COVID-19 cases in the state increased 28% and as the state’s infection rate, or R-naught, climbed above the threshold of 1.0% on Monday to 1.05%. That means one infected individual will infect at least one other person.
That includes 68 active cases involving congregations at three churches in three counties, and 49 cases in six counties involving residents returning from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, vacations.
“There’s got to be more, but this is enough to cause us a big-time problem in West Virginia,” Justice said. “If you’ve gone to Myrtle Beach, we want you tested.”
Justice also discouraged out-of-state vacations, stating, “If you don’t need to travel out of state, why do it?”
Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University, said Monday that West Virginia is mirroring trends in other states as officials authorize more and more businesses and activities to reopen following stay-at-home orders in parts of March and April.
Marsh said 12 states had record-high numbers of COVID-19 cases over the weekend, while 17 states saw increases in hospitalizations. Meanwhile, West Virginia’s infection rate crossed the 1.0 threshold, he said.
“It should be a good reminder to us we are not immune from the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
Marsh again called on residents to wear face masks and maintain social distancing when in public.
Justice also called on West Virginians to wear face coverings but said he will mandate masks, along with rollbacks of reopening measures, only if the spread of coronavirus gets worse.
“When it gets iffy, when people get concerned, I’m going to act. I’m not going to wait,” said Justice, who has said mandating the wearing of face masks — which Marsh and other health care experts have said is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — would be “divisive.”
Nationally, the wearing of masks has become a political and cultural touchstone, with many Republicans and conservatives — including President Donald Trump — eschewing face masks as being government overreach or a sign of weakness.
On Friday, Marsh indicated that, if West Virginia could reach 80% compliance with mask wearing, it would have the equivalent effect of having a coronavirus vaccine or effective treatment for the virus in curbing the spread of COVID-19.