CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday said residents should prepare for a mandatory face mask order as the state’s new coronavirus cases rise to their highest level since the pandemic began.
The Republican governor said he will decide early next week whether he will order that masks be worn inside buildings and when social distancing isn’t possible. Justice has previously resisted such a mandate but said he wanted to give people notice that a mask mandate could be coming.
“If that is such a horrible, horrible inconvenience in your life, please just think of what it will do to save us and keep us to be able to do all of the things that we’re doing today in West Virginia,” he said.
The warning comes as West Virginia’s virus cases have been steadily rising. Health officials reported the highest single-day tally of new cases since the pandemic began with 74 positives on Wednesday.
Justice said he was concerned after his daughter told him about a conversation she had with a high-ranking doctor at Johns Hopkins medical center who warned that a virus surge is coming. Last week, the governor forced out a top state public health official, Cathy Slemp, who graduated from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where leaders said they were “stunned and troubled” by her forced resignation.
The governor has lifted most virus restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of the virus at the start of the pandemic. Clusters have recently emerged after tourism travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and after church services.
Nationwide, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed to an all-time high of more than 50,000 per day Thursday. Infection curves are rising in 40 out of 50 states. Multiple governments moved to require masks in public spaces as caseloads increased.
At least 93 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 3,000 have tested positive since the outbreak began, according to state health data.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.