MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice provided updates on unmasking and ending the federal unemployment benefits program Friday before a surprise Capitol network outage stopped his briefing mid-sentence 30 minutes in.
Justice announced that he’s updating the statewide mask mandate to conform with Federal Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates to their guidance issued this week
The CDC said Thursday that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. Also, fully vaccinated people can refrain from testing following a known exposure unless they are residents or employees of a correctional or detention facility or a homeless shelter.
There were exceptions as the CDC said anyone visiting medical facilities, including doctors’ offices, should continue to wear masks.
Fully vaccinated kicks in two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or after the single Johnson & Johnson dose.
Given that new guidance, Justice said he is lifting the statewide mask guidance for those fully vaccinated. They can engage in indoor and outdoor activities without a mask.
He said he’d be signing an executive order to that effect later Friday.
He cautioned, “You do not have a constitutional right to not wear a mask.” Any private business or school can still require you to wear a mask.
“It’s a good day, it’s a great day,” he said. The masks have been cumbersome and invasive but also appreciated. “We want to give it a good burial … It’s saved so many lives.”
Justice chose not to view the updated guidance as a disincentive for getting vaccinated. “I don’t think that there’s a motivator out there that can possibly be any better than this for those that have not been vaccinated.” If you don’t like the mask, get vaccinated, he said.
Taking the Johnson & Johnson shot now, he said, could qualify you as fully vaccinated by the beginning of June, well before the official end of the mask mandate on June 20. “I respect all constitutional rights of everyone … We’re on a pathway to have a whale of a celebration on June 20.”
Because no reporters got to ask follow-up questions, there was no discussion of enforcement or how anyone will distinguish the vaccinated from the un-vaccinated without requiring presentation of vaccine cards in some way.
Regarding the “unemployment dilemma,” as he called it, Justice said about 24,000 people are unemployed and receiving the extra $300-per-week federal supplement. It’s been widely talked about that the federal money is discouraging many people from returning to work.
Some people are genuinely struggling, Justice said, but West Virginia will be joining 12 other states to suspend the federal payments. The effective date is June 19. Supplemental benefits for the self-employed also will terminate as of that date.
Any applications filed before that date will be processed, he said.
To offset that, Justice said, they are hoping to put in place by Monday an incentive program: a state $500 return-to-work signing bonus that would be matched by the employer.
“America is all about work,” he said. The federal benefit served a purpose. “That time needs to end and we need to move forward.” The signing bonus would come with a commitment to stay on the job for a minimum of 90 days. And you won’t get one if you quit your current job, take some time off, and get a new one.
Justice said the state is sending 6,000 doses of the J&J vaccine to Delaware that are set to expire in early June so they can be used in a timely manner.
He said the state has on-hand 33,000 doses of Pfizer and 20,000 each of Moderna and J&J. He suggested his data sheet might have a misprint on the numbers but the briefing cut out before that could be resolved.
After it ended, his office sent out this tweet: “Due to a network outage at the Capitol, the remainder of my briefing today has been canceled. My next COVID-19 briefing will be on Monday, May 17. I hope you all have a nice weekend, and I continue to encourage all West Virginians to get vaccinated!”