MORGANTOWN — If you want to enter a building other than a private residence today, you’ll have to cover up, Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday.
Your face, that is.
As anticipated, Justice signed an executive order mandating the use of masks or face coverings in any building where physical distancing guidelines can’t be strictly enforced.
The order went into effect at midnight July 7.
“I have watched your numbers every day. I know it’s not the popular thing to do,” he said. “Absolutely at this point in time it is the only thing we can do.”
Just look at Texas, he said. The state is reeling and hospitals are overloaded as it is experiencing a massive surge.
Data shows Texas went from 636 new positive cases on June 8 to 8,258 on July 4.
“You see an absolute catastrophe going on right in front of your eyes in Texas,” Justice said. “… We surely can’t become Texas, but we surely can become Texas.”
The mandate applies to those age 9 and up. It excludes those who have trouble breathing or can’t remove their mask without assistance. For those people, Dr. Clay Marsh said there are face shields available.
The order comes on the heels of a recent spike. In Mon County alone, positive cases went up nearly 62% in five days.
Statewide, the daily positive rate now stands at 3.76%. Since June 29, the daily number of active cases has climbed from 540 to 829 as of Monday evening.
There were two more deaths over the weekend, both linked to the church outbreak in Greenbrier County. This brings us to 95, Justice said.
“Statistics show that if all I do is encourage you to do that [wear a mask], we will continue on an incline of cases at a rate 84%. If I tell you that only employees at establishments wear masks, we’ll move on an incline of 70%.”
But if everyone wears a mask — employees and patrons — we’ll see an 11% decrease, he said.
The math is clear, he said.
He knows it’s an inconvenience and there will be pushback, but it’s essential, he added.
“I’m telling you point blank …” Justice said, “putting this little nothing on is a whole lot easier than standing over the casket of a loved one.”
On top of that, not wearing masks at this point could wind up causing reopening rollbacks and new shutdowns, he said.
“We’ve got to move and move now. … It’s the only way we can stop this. This isn’t a right that’s going to be taken away from you forevermore.”
It’s only a bridge to a vaccine, he added.
Asked a couple times about enforcing the order, Justice said no one will be fined or jailed for not complying, but he can’t understand why people wouldn’t follow the order.
“Consider the down side,” he said. “What could it possibly hurt?”
Given the increasing number of positive cases linked to restaurants, bars and gyms — particularly in Monongalia County, where more than 120 new cases have been logged since July 1, for a total of 287 — The Dominion Post asked whether new shutdowns might be considered statewide, or whether counties would be given the authority to make the call themselves.
Mon County also has the impending return of 30,000 WVU students to think about.
Justice did not answer the question, saying only he and his experts were watching Mon County “close.”
“We’re watching Mon County, we’re watching really close,” he said. “We’re really, really concerned about exactly what you just said and the situation that could explode.”
Marsh likewise didn’t give any specific plans in light of the situation.
“We are trying to evolve our strategies so that we are trying to reduce the rate of spread so we don’t see a surge,” he said. This could mean responding differently in different counties, as warranted, he said.
Many businesses in and around Morgantown voluntarily closed temporarily, whether because of positive cases among staff or patrons, or as a precautionary measure.
While some eateries are still offering curbside service and delivery, others have decided to close fully until further notice.
Several bars have also announced temporary closures, as have a few gyms.
Customers may want to call ahead or check a business’ social media pages before making plans, as each is operating on its own timeline.
Ask the doctor
To elaborate on the reasons behind the mandate, Marsh pointed out that, at one time, West Virginia had one of the best scores in the nation for the measure of the spread of the virus — the Rt level — at .6 (anything below 1 is considered good; the lower, the better).
Now, he said, we’re the seventh highest, at 1.27, meaning the virus is spreading.
In the last two weeks, the state has seen a 234% increase in positive cases, he said, and a 46% increase on a daily basis in the last four to five days. And these are community spread, he pointed out — not congregant instances, such as in a nursing home or prison.
This can be a forbearer of the virus increasing exponentially.
And now younger people are getting infected here and nationally, he said. Department of Health and Human Resources numbers show that the 20-29 age group now makes up 19.79% of all cases, the single largest number for any age group.
Marsh said National Governors Association data shows that states with no executive order regarding masks have seen an 85% increase in positives; those where just employees must wear masks have seen a 70% increase; states ordering patrons and employees to wear masks are seeing an 11% decrease.
Mandatory face masks doesn’t mean everyone must run out to purchase them either, Marsh said. Just about anything will suffice as a mask: A bandana, a dish towel folded into layers — as long as it covers the nose and mouth and gets cleaned with soap and water at least every other day, depending on the amount of use.
Masks and concealed carry
Governor’s office General Counsel Brian Abraham said they’ve received questions about the legality of carrying concealed weapons while wearing a mask.
During a civil emergency, such as is designated here, it is legal to do so, Abraham said, and the executive order will clarify that. But gun carriers who are traveling to other states should check their laws.