Legislature Won't Require Masks As COVID Surges - West Virginia Daily News
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Legislature Won’t Require Masks As COVID Surges

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On Friday, January 7, W. Va. Senate President Craig Blair and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw announced that face coverings will not be required in either chamber when the 2022 legislative session begins next week. However, both men made it clear that requirements could change quickly should circumstances of the pandemic warrant increased mitigation measures.

While speaking with the Associated Press, Stephen Baldwin, West Virginia’s Senate Minority Leader, expressed his concerns regarding the “impact [COVID-19 will have] on this session.”

Baldwin told the AP’s John Raby: “Does that mean the session should not continue? No, the session should continue. Life has to continue. But if we want life to continue as normally as possible, then we have to follow public health guidance in order to get back there.”

The decision, and subsequent announcement, comes at a point in the pandemic when West Virginia has nearly 14,000 active cases of the virus, and a cumulative positivity-rate of 6.79%. In Kanawha County, where the state capitol is located, currently has a positivity-percentage of 12.59, and an infection rate of 112.76%. Prior to lair and Hanshaw’s announcement, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, on Friday, reported the deaths of 29 additional residents as a result of complications stemming from the virus. As of Saturday, January 8, West Virginia’s COVID-19 death toll has reached 5,421.

The announcement also came just one day after Governor Jim Justice authored a letter to President Joe Biden, requesting federal permission be granted for the administration of a fourth vaccine dose.

“I write to you today with the utmost urgency,” Justice’s letter to the president began. “Our people need access to a fourth doe, today, as we continue to fight this COVID-19 pandemic. West Virginia’s population is one of the oldest, most chronically ill, and therefore most vulnerable populations in the Nation.”

Justice’s letter further states “We simply cannot wait,” before concluding with “I [ ] request, respectfully and with all my heart, that you direct your Federal Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control to allow the most vulnerable West Virginians and our essential workforce to receive their fourth doe to give then the best chance possible against serious illness or much, much worse.”

While, at the time of this writing, Justice has made no public comment regarding the mask-free legislative session, the letter he has written to the president, as well as comments made during Tuesday’s media briefing seem to make the governor’s feelings clear.

“We cannot afford to become numb to this,” Justice said Tuesday. “We can’t become numb about the folks that we’ve lost. We can’t become numb that we have more people in our hospitals.”

Justice is scheduled to deliver his annual “State of the State” address in the House chamber on Wednesday, January 12. As of now, face coverings will not be required during the governor’s address. However, according to House Communications Director Ann Ali, “That could change between now and then.”

Those confirmed deceased by the DHHR on Friday include an 85-year old male from Kanawha County, a 65-year old female from Wayne County, a 58-year old male from Grant County, a 73-year old male from Mingo County, an 83-year old male from Kanawha County, a 61-year old male from Berkeley County, an 86-year old female from Raleigh County, a 50-year old male from Lewis County, an 88-year old female from Jefferson County, a 61-year old male from Morgan County, a 52-year old male from Marshall County, a 69-year old female from Brooke County, a 39-year old female from Mingo County, a 69-year old male from Cabell County, a 43-year old female from Ritchie County, a 97-year old male from Harrison County, a 58-year old male from Morgan County, a 73-year old female from Clay County, a 65-year old male from Raleigh County, a 74-year old male from Taylor County, a 55-year old male from Upshur County, a 79-year old male from Morgan County, a 77-year old male from Monongalia County, a 72-year old male from Berkeley County, an 86-year old female from Cabell County, a 68-year old male from Gilmer County, an 84-year old male from Wirt County, a 91-year old male from Kanawha County, and a 73-year old female from Clay County.

In a statement released through the W.Va. DHHR’s website, Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch said, “With a heavy heart, we share this solemn news of more lives lost to this pandemic. We extend our sympathies to the families affected and encourage you to honor them by getting vaccinated.”

At present, 762 West Virginians are hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, 199 of whom are being cared for in the state’s various intensive care units. A total of 116 people are being treated through ventilators.

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