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Justice addresses pushback on masks, schools, sports

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice addressed criticisms Monday over his expanded COVID-19 mask order resulting in his personal cell phone number being released, calls from parents to let students in orange and red counties play sports, and a teachers’ union asking for schools to be shut down.

Speaking Monday during his coronavirus briefing, Justice said he was trying his best to protect lives while also wanting to see schools open for students and to see school sports continue if possible.

“I know at times it’s confusing and frustrating,” Justice said. “I know as you’re tired and you have weight upon your shoulders – some of you have unbelievable weight to tell you the truth because you’ve lost your jobs or whatever it might be – but I want you to know too that I have the weight of our state on my shoulders.”

Justice announced last Friday a tightening of his executive order requiring the wearing of face masks or coverings in public indoor places. Now masks must be worn even in instances where social distancing is possible. Children under the age of 9, people with breathing issues, or people who require assistance to put on or remove a mask are exempt. The order also doesn’t apply to actively eating and drinking. Businesses and offices must post signs.

While refusing to wear a mask has no criminal penalty, Justice said businesses can call law enforcement if a person refuses to wear a mask when asked by employees. If that person refuses with law enforcement officers present, the person can be removed from the premises or charged with obstruction.

According to the MetroNews West Virginia Poll from October, 73 percent of West Virginians said they wear a mask in businesses and public buildings, while 14 percent said they do most of the time, 4 percent said some of the time, and 2 percent said never.

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