Two days after saying he didn’t know what else he could do in regard to COVID-19, Gov. Jim Justice found some resolve, tightening the state’s mask mandate, pushing the start date of all scholastic winter sports, including basketball, to Jan. 11, and lengthening Thanksgiving break to a week. Justice also ordered all band competitions and concerts canceled.
The governor made the announcements during a press briefing on Friday, after West Virginia has seen continuous, in some cases record-setting, rising case numbers, active cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The orders followed the worst day in the country for new COVID-19 cases, which surpassed 150,000.
Some of these decisions will not be popular, but it was the right thing to do.
The change in mask policy isn’t huge. Masks are now mandated at any indoor business or public building, even if social distancing is possible, and the only exceptions are children aged 9 or under, or those with a legitimate medical reason they can’t wear a mask. It is also now required for businesses to post signs noting the mask mandate. Many businesses were already doing all of these things, but it doesn’t hurt to reinforce the commitment to wearing masks in public. Justice also amped up his rhetoric in terms of enforcement, telling business owners if someone refuses to follow the guidelines, “Call the police.” Violators could be charged with obstruction of justice, the governor claimed. Gov. Justice also warned that if businesses fail to comply, they’ll be shut down.
The extended Thanksgiving break — schools won’t be out, but online only for the three additional weekdays — while difficult for those who rely on school being in session for childcare, is a preemptive measure for a period when people are expected to travel and gather. This will hopefully reduce COVID-19 spread when school resumes in person.
Pushing back winter sports — including travel and club teams — makes sense given the acceleration of cases in the state. Participants, parents and coaches can be forgiven for questioning the governor’s decision to allow fall sports to continue and conclude. That’s a complicated issue, and the case can certainly be made for shutting down fall sports. That’s already been controversial enough with who can and can’t play, so it’s not surprising the governor avoided crossing that bridge.
These decisions took leadership, and show the governor is prioritizing health and safety over convenience. West Virginians need to unite behind these and other guidelines to protect themselves and their loved ones.