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County’s mandatory mask request picks up support, commission awaits response

MORGANTOWN — The Monongalia County Commission’s request that masks be mandatory while in public anywhere in the county from May 1-17 has the endorsement of Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Bill Crouch, the state’s DHHR cabinet secretary.

The commissioners are hopeful it’ll soon have the endorsement of Gov. Jim Justice, who would need to issue an executive order making it so.

Over the next two-plus weeks, more than 12,000 WVU students, friends and family members are expected in Morgantown and Monongalia County to move out of off-campus housing.

This window also coincides with the timeline Justice set to begin relaxing COVID-19  restrictions on businesses and social activities, which goes into effect on Monday.

The commission sent the request on Wednesday. Commissioner Tom Bloom said it was also provided to COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh by WVU Health System CEO Albert Wright.

During Thursday’s briefing, Justice said he plans to issue additional guidance to five hot spot counties on Friday.

Bloom said he’s hopeful the county’s request will be part of that.

The commission received an email from Greene County, Pa. County Commissioner Mike Belding on Thursday explaining the Green County Emergency Management Agency is working with the West Virginia Division of Highways to place lighted highway signs on I-79, just south of the Pa./W.Va. line.

According to Bloom, the signs will read “Move in, Move out, Masks required.”

He said the commission is looking at having similar signs on I-68.

Monongalia County Health Department Executive Director Lee Smith issued guidelines for the move-out period earlier this week, which, among other things, mandates students coordinate with landlords to set up a move-out day.

The MCHD release states, in part, “Students and families may be traveling from areas with high transmission rates of COVID-19 and will be allowed only a 24-hour window during which they will be permitted inside Monongalia County, understanding that if they stay longer than 24 hours, they may be subject to a 14-day quarantine.”

It also indicates masks are available to tenants through their landlords.

Manchin’s office reached out to The Dominion Post on Thursday offering support for the county’s request.

Manchin called the plan a “measured approach,” and noted “Monongalia County and West Virginians across the state have done the hard work necessary to prevent mass spread, but we are not out of the woods yet.”

Bloom shared an email from Crouch in which the DHHR secretary said he was “impressed with [the commission’s] proactive approach to reopening.”

If Justice issues the order, everyone — not just students — will have to wear a mask while in a public place anywhere in the county or face penalties, which would likely be fines.

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