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Justice Holds Mask

Gov. Jim Justice holds a face mask during a news conference Monday.

Alarmed by a spike in COVID-19 cases in Monongalia County, home of Morgantown and West Virginia University, Gov. Jim Justice said Friday he will wait until Monday to make a decision about whether to reorder the closure of bars and indoor dining in the county.

As of Friday, Monongalia County had 246 active cases of COVID-19, a 60% jump since the start of the month, as social media reports showed partiers crowded into city bars without masks and ignoring social distancing guidelines.

Justice stressed he will be forced to resume closure orders for businesses if people fail to comply with the mandatory face mask order he issued earlier this week.

“The next bullet that is around is to shut our state back down,” Justice said at Friday’s COVID-19 briefing.

Statewide, active COVID-19 cases jumped from 564 on July 1 to 1,074 on Friday — a 90% increase.

Justice again pleaded for the public to comply with the face mask mandate, and to encourage their “Cousin Eddies” — folks who refuse to comply — to also wear their masks.

“I’ve said it until I’m blue-green. If you wear a mask, not only will you protect yourself, but more than anything, you’ll protect others,” Justice said.

Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University, said the state is “at a very critical moment” as the state’s Rt rate — a measure for how quickly the virus is spreading — on Friday was 1.7, the highest infection rate in the nation.

Since there tends to be a two- to three-week lag from the time positive tests increase until hospitalizations jump, Marsh said it is critical to comply with mask wearing and social distancing now.

“It is really critical that we mitigate really aggressively today,” he said.

Also during the Friday briefing:

Justice introduced Dr. Ayne Amjad, a Beckley physician, as the state’s new Public Health Officer. Amjad succeeds Dr. Cathy Slemp, who was forced to resign

  • June 23.

Amjad, who has a master’s degree in public health from WVU and a medical degree from Marshall, said of her appointment Friday, “Everything happened really fast, but I’m glad to be part of the team.”

Justice said he is “pivoting” on plans to spend

  • $100 million of the state’s $1.25 billion federal CARES Act appropriation on highway construction. He said Friday he will use $50 million of that amount on expansion of broadband in the state.

Critics, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., questioned Justice’s plan to use funds intended to provide COVID-19 relief to cities, counties, businesses and individuals for highways construction.

Justice again rejected the necessity to have the Legislature participate in the process of appropriating CARES Act funds, saying calling in legislators would result in a “soapbox show,” “a political nightmare,” and “a political circus.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220

or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.