Justice Opposes Shutdown Despite Rise In Coronavirus Cases, Curfew Action From Neighboring Governor
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice says he will not take shutdown measures, despite a recent uptick in coronavirus cases in the state.
Those sentiments from the governor on Wednesday — as well as a continued urging for people to wear masks — came after a governor from a neighboring state had issued curfew measures as the number of cases of the potentially deadly virus have skyrocketed across the nation.
“Let me make one thing absolutely, perfectly clear — perfectly clear: Jim Justice does not want to shut down anything in this state,” Justice said in a Wednesday virtual news briefing.
“What have I shut down since the initial shutdown in which we all had to do, all across this nation?” Justice defended. “What have I done — what have I shut down? The bars in [Monongalia] County — and it was a good move. But other than that, what has been shut down? Nothing. Zero.”
The governor’s comments came a day after Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio announced a three-week overnight curfew in an attempt to quell the spread of the virus. The curfew in Ohio will last from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Justice also addressed rumors that — despite a sharp increase in cases in recent weeks — West Virginia may be headed to a shutdown.
“Absolutely get that out of your mind. Please get that out of your mind,” he said.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported Wednesday a record 953 new daily cases from the day before. Over the past week, a total of 6,309 new cases have been reported — and the number of new daily cases now frequently breaks prior records.
To date, West Virginia has recorded 612 deaths attributed to the coronavirus. with 57 reported in the last week. Out of the 36,277 total confirmed cases in the state, nearly a third — or 11,172 cases — are considered active.
On a national scale, Justice noted that 8,091 people in the United States lost their lives to the coronavirus in the past week. So far, more than 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with the virus, with nearly a quarter of million deaths attributed to the pandemic.
“We have lost more people in a week than [what] we lost in all the years in the War on Terror,” he said.
On Friday, Justice announced a stricter mandate for wearing a mask while indoors. Through executive order, West Virginians are required to wear a mask indoors at all times except when actively eating or drinking. An earlier, more relaxed order allowed residents to remove masks indoors when social distancing could take place.
On Wednesday, Justice continued to plead with West Virginians to wear a mask under the new order.
“I’ve been through the face covering stuff until I can’t talk about it anymore,” he said. “I urge everyone to please wear their mask when they go into public buildings.”
But Justice did acknowledge that at least a small percentage of residents remain opposed to the mitigation measure.
Outgoing lawmaker and unsuccessful write-in candidate for governor Del. S. Marshall Wilson, I-Berkeley, emailed a statement to state news media Tuesday evening askin on the Legislature to call itself back into session to undo executive orders that imposed restrictions and impeach Justice.
Wilson’s statement — which he dubbed “A Declaration Pertaining to the Unconstitutional and Unconscionable Acts of James Conley Justice II" — took aim at Justice for what he sees as oppressive policy when it comes to slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
“We, the People, are the true rulers of this land. We instituted this government to secure our unalienable Rights and to protect the people of this state from all encroachments upon those rights,” Wilson wrote. “When this government not only fails to perform that basic duty but actually becomes the instrument of that encroachment, it renders itself invalid and destroys the foundation of its authority.”
In Wednesday’s virtual briefing, Justice seemed to take aim at Wilson and other critics.
“We can’t have a food fight over something as simple as this egg-sucking mask. That's all there is to it. We can’t have a food fight over this," Justice said.
The governor also argued against the notion that a mask requirement would be the beginning of constitutional requirements being infringed upon.
“For crying out loud, we don't need a food fight over something to where somebody is standing up on a soapbox trying to get you to believe that — if they make you wear a mask — they're going to take your guns, they're going to absolutely come and invade your house,” he said.
While Justice described a hypothetical situation in which the state would report hundreds of deaths each day, he offered no threshold that would force a shutdown or other strict restrictions to stop the virus.
“From the standpoint of there being a benchmark that says ‘West Virginia, if you start losing 123 people a day, you're gonna have to shut down the hair and nail salons,’”Justice said. “There is not that and there shouldn't be that.”