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Local Health Officials Hopeful Of Mask Mandate

Photo by Scott McCloskey Members of the public attending the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday of Wheeling City Council were required to wear face coverings while inside Independence Hall.

WHEELING — Local health officials said they would overwhelmingly support a statewide mandate requiring people to wears masks indoors after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice floated the idea Thursday.

While Justice said he has not made a final decision about requiring masks to be worn in public, he suggested a formal announcement could be made as soon as Monday.

Health officials in Ohio and Marshall counties are hopeful that will happen in order to have a uniform standard across the state to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s a huge public health step, if we do it,” Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble said moments after listening to Justice’s press conference Thursday.

“It will help dramatically,” Gamble added. “Is it 100 percent? No. Will it get the disease down to a manageable level in the state and country? Absolutely.”

Gamble noted that it would be pointless for a single county to implement its own mask rules with the amount of travel by residents between other counties.

“For it to be effective, it would need to be statewide,” Gamble said.

The Northern Panhandle’s positioning between Pennsylvania and Ohio would also be a factor. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday his state would require masks for anyone in public, including outdoors when people cannot physically distance themselves. Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he would recommend all students in third grade and up wear masks or face shields while in the classroom.

“Hands down, it’s a public health benefit to stop the transmission of a respiratory virus,” Gamble said.

Mark Ackermann, the threat preparedness director for the Marshall County Health Department, echoed those thoughts and said workers in his office have been wearing masks while inside the building for months now. The department also has held multiple mask distribution events in the county.

Ackermann was adamant a mask mandate would be helpful to limit transmission of the coronavirus.

“We fully support this,” Ackermann said. “This is the way we’re going to slow this spread, by people wearing these face coverings.”

Enforcement, on the other hand, would be difficult, both health department officials admitted.

“We don’t think there’s a huge way we can enforce it other than the businesses and people and general public enforcing it themselves,” Ackermann said.

Gamble said they would not be handing out individual tickets to people, but they could punish venues, businesses or organizations that are not adhering to the requirement. He added the public needs to “understand why we’re doing this” for it to work.

“For this to be enforced, it needs to have a very heavy acceptance of the public,” Gamble said. “We need to do this so we can manage the virus and open up.”

Both said if Justice mandates face coverings, information on how people should wear the masks and where they should wear must be clear. Regardless, Ackermann said wearing a mask is a sign of respect for others in the community.

“We want the public to understand the goal of wearing the mask is to respect someone else,” Ackermann said. “And them wearing one is to respect you.”

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