CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday that he may reconsider his decision not to mandate masks in the state’s public schools, if cases of the coronavirus continue to surge higher.
Justice’s remarks marked an about-face from his most recent stance — that he would allow counties to make their own decisions for the upcoming school year. He has steadfastly urged people to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
“I’m trying to give a lot of leeway to our local officials,” Justice said. “But if this thing continues, we will have to adjust and we probably will end up having to move in this direction.”
Health officials reported on Wednesday that 334 people had tested positive for the virus — the highest daily number in three months.
The number of currently active coronavirus cases in the state is 4,625, nearly double that at the beginning of the month. In Kanawha County, the state’s largest, the number of active cases jumped by 37 on Wednesday, to 243. That’s a nearly fourfold increase since the start of the month.
Hospitalizations have jumped to 275, up from 52 on July 4. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units has hit a six-month high, according to state health data.
Outbreaks have slipped back into long-term care facilities and churches, too, with 30 current positive cases among residents at a residential facility in Fayette County and 12 at another in Putnam County. And there are 13 outbreaks involving churches in 12 counties, Justice said.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen stuff like this,” the governor said. “Buckle up, just a little bit, and we’ll get through this.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC cited new information about the ability of the virus’s highly contagious delta variant to spread among vaccinated people.
West Virginia is starting the school year this month with in-person learning in all 55 counties. Some counties have left the mask-wearing decisions up to students, while others are requiring them at certain grade levels.
The governor in nearby Kentucky issued a mask mandate in schools on Tuesday. In other states, school districts are increasingly defying Republican leaders who banned school mask mandates.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.