West Virginia to lift statewide mask mandate on June 20
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia will lift its statewide mask mandate on June 20 after state officials projected more than two-thirds of eligible residents will be vaccinated against the coronavirus by then, Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday.
And even if that target isn't met, Justice said the mandate will still end on that date, also known as West Virginia Day, which marks the state's admission into the union.
"We'll be close enough," he said at his regularly scheduled news conference. "We're going with that date, period."
The state has attempted to turn around its sluggish vaccination drive for weeks after hesitancy led to plummeting demand. The Republican governor has already dangled the prize of a "patriotic" $100 savings bond for people aged 16 to 35 who get a shot. The state is also attempting to make walk-up vaccine clinics ubiquitous, holding them at state parks, fairs, businesses, schools and other high-traffic places.
Justice said he expects 65% of all residents aged 12 and older to be at least partially vaccinated by June 20. The state is gearing up to hold clinics at schools to vaccinate children ages 12 to 15 once the federal government gives emergency use authorization for a vaccine.
The governor also targets 75% of residents aged 50 and over to be vaccinated, and 85% coverage for senior citizens.
The date won't be moved up if the state reaches those metrics earlier.
"We're going to call this our call to arms," Justice said. "We need the arms in a different way. We need arms to put shots into."
Justice also has said he wants to beat President Joe Biden's goal of vaccinating 70% of American adults by July Fourth. The state has currently given at least one dose to 54% of its eligible population of people over the age of 16.
About 40.5% of all residents in the state have received at least one dose of a vaccine, state data show, and 34.4% are fully vaccinated.
The state's coronavirus czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, endorsed the new targets during the governor's press conference.
"We want to be flexible, we want to be agile," said Marsh, a high ranking West Virginia University official. "But we also want to return life back to regular life for all West Virginians absolutely as soon as we can."