From schools to vaccines: Justice, Youngkin chart path forward in COVID fight

Governors Justice and Youngkin explain their focus moving forward in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Governors Justice and Youngkin explain their focus moving forward in the COVID-19 pandemic.(WVVA News)
Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 6:37 PM EDT
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BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (WVVA) - Governor Jim Justice urged West Virginians not to become complacent two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Let’s always stay on guard and let’s just don’t get frustrated and say, ‘we just don’t want anything to do with this and we’re not going to do anything and let’s just have a party’ […] and then all of a sudden something really and truly bad happens,” Justice said.

The number of daily new positive cases in West Virginia have declined significantly since a spike in January caused by the omicron variant. 5,295 cases were recorded in the state on January 21, 2022, a single day record during the pandemic, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

In early January, Governor Justice was diagnosed with COVID-19 before he was set to deliver his State of the State address to the legislature.

“It was no good and it wasn’t any fun, I’ll promise you that,” Justice said. “For a couple days, it was really bad.”

Justice said his symptoms included a headache, fever, elevated heart rate and high blood pressure. The 70-year-old credited getting fully vaccinated and the booster shot recommended by the CDC for his case not being more serious.

The Republican governor is still urging West Virginians to get the shots.

“If we can get another 10 across the finish line, a thousand across the finish line, 5,000 across the finish line, how many lives are we going to save,” he said.

Nearly 54% of West Virginians had received the first two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as of the middle of March 2022, according to the WV DHHR. Less than half, around 43%, had a booster shot.

Data from the Virginia Department of Health show more than 70% of the population was fully vaccinated at the same time. [get data on booster percentage]

“The best way to keep our families safe and ourselves safe is to get the vaccine and if you’ve had the vaccine to get boosted,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.

During the first couple weeks of his term, Youngkin has pushed to make measures meant to protect communities against the spread of COVID-19 less stringent. In January, he ended a requirement put in place by his Democratic predecessor for state workers to get vaccinated or tested, including at public colleges and universities.

“This is a moment for people to take charge of their own health,” Youngkin said about the state of the pandemic. “I believe that this is the best way for us to charter our path forward.”

A month after taking office, Youngkin also signed a bipartisan bill into law prohibiting school districts from instituting mask mandates.

“What that means is that people get to choose,” he said. “If you feel like you should wear a mask or your parents want you to wear a mask, then you can absolutely wear a mask.”

A similar push in West Virginia’s legislature during the 2022 session to restrict local school divisions from requiring masks did not make it to the governor’s desk.

Justice said he would have signed off on such a bill.

“I can’t stand to see our kids in those masks,” Justice said. “I know it’s tough on them. I know it’s hurting them.”

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