Gov. Jim Justice intends to end West Virginia’s face mask mandate June 20, he announced Friday during a news conference.
Justice believes the state will have 65% of its eligible population vaccinated against COVID-19 by then, which would include anyone age 12 or older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to approve vaccines for children between the ages of 12 and 15 before that date. He expects 75% of those age 50 or older will be vaccinated by that time, as will 85% of those age 65 or older.
The governor said earlier this week he intended to set a vaccination percentage target to determine when he would end the mandate, but now he said he changed course after conversations with medical experts.
“I am targeting a different type of approach, and this has come as a direct recommendation from all my medical experts,” Justice said. “We are targeting our state’s 158th birthday on June 20 that we’re going to get rid of these masks.”
A person still would be allowed to wear a mask voluntarily.
Even if the state does not reach those numbers by June 20, Justice said, “We’ll be close enough.” If the state reaches the numbers earlier, he still plans to stick to that date. If it is sooner, Justice said that would be “wonderful news” and residents can endure a few more days before celebrating the end of the mask mandate on the state’s birthday.
The projections come, in part, based on the incentives Justice established for residents between the ages of 16 and 35. He is using federal relief money to provide $100 incentives to any person in that age range who gets the vaccine.
“If those people don’t get a shot and they do [contract COVID-19], and they can do it without even hardly knowing it … there’s real chances that they could end up with … future side effects that could cause them real health issues … [and] they could bring this home” and cause someone who has yet to be fully vaccinated contract the virus, Justice said.
Justice said the average age testing positive for COVID-19 is 34 years old and he encouraged young people to get vaccinated. He said about 97% of West Virginians who have died were 65 years old or older.
Fifty-four percent of West Virginians age 16 or older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 45% are fully vaccinated. For adults age 65 or older, nearly 80% have received at least one dose and more than 70% are fully vaccinated.