Justice takes wait and see on mask mandate bill
CHARLESTON – Gov. Jim Justice was uncommitted Friday on a pending bill to prohibit mask and test mandates in public schools.
“My only comment would be simply just this, ‘We got a lot to do here. A lot lot lot to do,” Justice said during his Friday pandemic briefing. “I’ll go back to if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, or don’t try to fix it.”
House Bill 4071 introduced by Republican delegates was passed out of the Education Committee on Wednesday and is headed to the Judiciary Committee.
Titled the Public School Health Rights Act, the bill would prevent schools and educational institutions and elected or appointed officials from requiring masks or tests on students and school employees and prohibits quarantines unless there’s a positive COVID-19 test result.
The legislation doesn’t prohibit someone wearing a mask and parents can send their children to school with masks.
Justice didn’t commit to what action he would take on the bill if it passes the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“We’ll watch this and we’ll make a decision on it when it finally comes out,” Justice said.
Numerous counties and schools in West Virginia require masks. Local school boards have done well, said Justice, reiterating such mandates are not needed in schools.
“And I’m sure a lot of good legislators believe the same thing,” he said. “But we got a lot of really important stuff going on here.”
Friday’s briefing was underscored by the latest statewide hospitalization numbers nearing the Sept. 24 record of 1,012 patients. The Department of Health and Human Resources Friday reported 980 patients are in the hospital with COVID complications, most of those unvaccinated.
“It’s important to recognize that our hospital numbers in West Virginia are going up,” Dr. Clay Marsh, coronavirus leader in West Virginia, said.
Some areas around the country are seeing a plateauing of hospitalizations, not in West Virginia just yet, Marsh said.
“We anticipate seeing that continue to rise,” he said.
Marsh said it is likely the state will exceed the high mark set in September and will surpass the number at a time when hospitals are faced with more staffing shortages “than we have ever been before.”
Data indicates people older than 55 who are vaccinated and have booster shots have a 44 to 49 times greater chance of not going into a hospital if infected than someone who is not vaccinated, Marsh said.
National Guard personnel are supplementing staff at hospitals in West Virginia where 200 members were expected to be deployed by the end of the day on Friday, according to James Hoyer, a former National Guard general who heads the joint interagency task force on vaccines.
Additional Guard members are being trained, he said.
Hoyer also made the ominous prediction that upward of 6,400 West Virginians will die from the virus, 100 times more than the 64 predicted by a university study at the beginning of the pandemic.
“We are potentially going to approach 100 times that number,” Hoyer said.
The governor, who recently had COVID, also announced his daughter, Jill, and son-in-law, Adam, both tested positive for the virus. They are fully vaccinated, he said.
(Mancini can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)