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Wild, Wonderful and Partially Unmasked: West Virginia Rescinds Mask Order for Those Fully Vaccinated

Photo Courtesy of W.Va. Governor’s Office Gov. Jim Justice discusses his decisions to immediately end mask mandates for fully vaccinated West Virginians, as well as end federal pandemic unemployment assistance as of June 19, during his Friday COVID-19 briefing.

CHARLESTON — West Virginians fully vaccinated against COVID-19 won’t have to wait for the state mask mandate to be officially lifted on June 20.

During his regular briefing Friday, Gov. Jim Justice announced he was signing an executive order modifying the mask requirement to follow updated guidance announced Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our face-covering requirement no longer applies to you if you are fully vaccinated,” he said. “Our face-covering requirement will still apply for all those that have not been vaccinated until June 20.”

The governor also announced federal pandemic unemployment assistance in the state will end on June 19.

Justice noted that businesses or schools can still require people to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.

“Remember, you do not have a constitutional right not to wear a mask,” he said.

Justice said he was glad to issue the order but celebrated the role masks have played during the pandemic.

“It has saved so many lives,” he said. “For the ones that are fully vaccinated, we want to absolutely tell that mask how much we appreciate it, even though it’s been terribly cumbersome, and it’s been invasive and all that.”

Justice announced last week that the mask mandate would be lifted for all residents on West Virginia Day, June 20. The expectation is that about 65 percent of the state’s population will have received at least one dose of the vaccine on or around that date.

The governor said the chance to take off their masks even earlier ought to provide an incentive for those who still haven’t been vaccinated.

“For crying out loud, you don’t like the mask? Go get vaccinated,” he said.

Justice said there are approximately 24,000 West Virginians unemployed and receiving enhanced benefits through federal funding, while many small businesses are struggling to fill jobs. With that in mind, the state will follow the lead of others and end all federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs on June 19.

That includes the additional $300 a week going to unemployment recipients; benefits to the self-employed, gig workers and part-time workers not usually eligible; the extension once regular benefits have been exhausted; and an additional $100 benefit to certain people with mixed earnings, according to a release from Workforce West Virginia. Eligible weeks filed before that date will continue to be processed.

“West Virginians will have access to thousands of jobs, right now, and we need everybody back to work,” Justice said.

State officials are discussing an incentive program to get people back to work, including a $500 signing bonus that would be matched by the state, Justice said.

“The employee gets a thousand bucks to go back to work if — if — you stay on the job for a minimum of 90 days,” he said.

It would not apply to people who simply change jobs.

“We’re interested in getting these folks back to work here that are on the sidelines right now,” Justice said.

The briefing ended prematurely a short time later, due to technical difficulties, according to a release from the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine joined in Friday by immediately removing the mask mandate for fully vaccinated Ohioans. The mandate for all state residents will end June 2. He also announced Thursday that pandemic unemployment benefits would end in Ohio on June 26.

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