CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice ordered to loosen pandemic restrictions on Friday at restaurants, bars and most businesses to allow full capacity at those establishments where social distancing is possible. The state’s mask mandate will remain in effect.
Full capacity will be allowed at small business and retail stores and gyms and museums. Justice said standing room to congregate will not be allowed in places such as bars.
Last month, Justice had already loosened restrictions on businesses after a dip in cases and deaths.
But he said he will not be influenced by other Republican governors removing mask mandates, to avoid a “whiplash that really hurts us” in cases. Governors in Texas and Mississippi announced the end of state mask requirements in their states this week.
“We absolutely expect you to continue to wear your mask,” Justice said. “We are not backing off of our mask mandate at this time.”
The limit on social gatherings will also go up from 75 to 100, taking effect at midnight. Restrictions are also being lifted on youth travel sports in counties that are not labeled red on the state’s coronavirus map. Currently, no county has that designation, which is for the most severe level of virus spread.
The state reported 195 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 9 deaths. Hospitalizations stand at 200 patients, down from a peak of 818 patients two months ago. The daily percent of people took a coronavirus test and received a positive result has dropped to about 2.5%, the lowest since last fall.
“I’m 100% comfortable” with the latest lifting of restrictions, said the state’s coronavirus czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, at a press conference with Justice.
The state reported a jump in vaccination pace on Friday, with over 16,200 people receiving their first shots. In total, 18.1% of West Virginia’s 1.78 million residents have received at least one dose, while 11.7% are fully vaccinated, according to state data.
The initial shipment of 15,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which only call for one dose for full effectiveness, arrived in the state this week. But another shipment of the one-shot vaccine isn’t expected to arrive until around March 23, said James Hoyer, a retired major general leading the state’s coronavirus task force, due to manufacturing capacity.
Justice decried those people who have decided against taking the vaccine and “are on a mission from God to convince you to not take yours, because someway somehow that makes them feel better.”
He has urged all residents to take the shot and sign up to pre-register for appointments at vaccinate.wv.gov.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.