W.Va. governor calls for masks, testing as outbreaks emerge

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice pounds the table at the conclusion of his press conference saying the state can beat the coronavirus challenge, Friday, March 13, 2020 at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Justice announced that all schools are to be closed by the end of the school day Friday. (Chris Dorst/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Friday called for face masks, social distancing and testing as local health officials reported several coronavirus outbreaks linked to churches and travel.

The Republican governor’s ask come as dozens of new cases have been connected to church services, including at least 33 at the Graystone Baptist Church in Lewisburg, as well as roughly 30 cases following travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Justice, who has lifted most virus restrictions, has framed reopening as a process of managing risk, maintaining that he will reinstate shutdowns if necessary.

“Are we willing to try to live though the rough seas and have as much normalcy as we possibly can or do we lock ourselves down in our houses?” he asked. “Well I don’t think West Virginians are willing to lock themselves down and I don’t think from the standpoint of the economics of the whole thing that we can stand to be locked down.”

The governor has so far balked on mandating face masks, as other governments have done, saying it would be politically divisive and that the state’s current caseloads don’t justify such an order. Still, he said he reserves the right to require the masks if necessary.

The state health department said at least 88 people have died from the virus and roughly 2,400 have tested positive.

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.

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