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Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Gov. Justice: No Mask Required After June 20


Gov. Jim Justice announced at a press briefing today that he will rescind the indoor mask mandate on June 20, which is West Virginia Day.

Justice said it will be a day to celebrate the state’s 158th birthday, and how far the state has come during the pandemic.

COVID-19 vaccinations have slowed, but state health officials claim enough of the population will be immunized to drop the mask restriction safely, they said Friday.

Officials think 65 percent of West Virginians 12 and older will be vaccinated by then. That’s assuming the Food and Drug Administration approves the Pfizer vaccine for those 12 to 15.

State health officials are projecting that 75 percent of those 50 and older will also be immunized by then, and 85 percent of those 65 and older.

If those benchmarks aren’t met, Justice said he’ll drop indoor masking requirements regardless.

“We’ll be close enough. We’re going with that date, period,” he said.

About 45 percent of West Virginians have gotten one dose so far.

“Real-world data tells us when you get to about 60 percent of your population who’s immunized, then you start to see things really fall down,” Coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh said. “And even as you open things, they continue to stay down.”

Reaching those benchmarks might slow the virus, but they don’t guarantee herd immunity. Health experts say herd immunity may not be attainable in the near future, due to variants and vaccine hesitancy.

Justice is pushing for more West virginians to get vaccinated. His plan is to meet people where they are.

“We will set up locations and times where there are a lot of high-traffic people, like the fairs and festivals or church parking lots, sporting events, the bars, the restaurants, shopping centers and malls,” he said this week. “And if we have to go door to door, we will go from door to door”

Vaccines have already been administered at college games and the high school basketball championships. Every state park will host a clinic by Memorial Day weekend. And to reach those that may not go out as much, the state says it will partner with Meals on Wheels and Senior Services to give shots at homes.

Justice announced last month that the state will offer a $100 savings bond to those ages 16 to 35 who accept a vaccine. No one has gotten their bond yet, as details are still being worked out. Behavioral health experts say that uncertainty doesn’t bode well for the impact of the monetary incentive.

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