Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday that due to a decreasing number of COVID-19 cases and an increase in the number of West Virginians vaccinated, he would lift capacity restrictions on businesses and increase the social gathering limit.
Restaurants and bars can open at 100% capacity “only if social distancing can be maintained between groups that arrive and sit together,” according to the executive order. Bars can only increase capacity if they have seating room for all patrons, according to the order.
Small businesses, retail stores, and grocery stores also had their capacity limits lifted. Gyms, fitness centers, and museums will also be allowed to open at 100% capacity.
All businesses, however, must keep social distancing in place and masks are still mandated.
“We do continue to expect you to wear these masks,” Justice said. “You know, I’m not a fan of the masks either. But, at the same time, we know they’ve saved a lot of lives, and we know we’re too early in the game to let our guard down.”
LIVE: Gov. Justice and state officials provide an update for media on COVID-19 preparedness and response plans – March 5, 2021. West Virginians 16 and up can pre-register to be vaccinated at https://t.co/6K3N1ok8fA or by calling 1-833-734-0965. #WV #WVGov https://t.co/wFPAltJgDl
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) March 5, 2021
“Some folks believe that, wearing a mask, they shouldn’t do it from a freedom standpoint. I only ask you to consider how hard the National Guard has worked to get us where we are today,” he continued. “I would ask you; have you not seen how the ICU nurses have gone to work every day and held the hands of 2,318 West Virginians that died and watched them take their last breath? Have you asked these people about freedom?”
Justice criticized earlier Friday some states’ decisions to end their mask mandates, warning they could experience “whiplash” from making the decision too early while speaking on MSNBC. (RELATED: ‘Neanderthal Thinking’: Biden, White House Bash State Governors For Ending Mask Mandates)
“If we instantaneously react sometimes it could be kind of foolish because all the sudden we may turn around and look at some really bad weather, winter weather that’s still to come.”
He added that West Virginia would “be a little more cautious” and not “just jump right into that pool” yet.
“A lot of people want to do that to make a big splash and everything. Maybe get themselves in the news and everything,” Justice said. “But West Virginia’s done the prudent and right thing along the way, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Justice also said he wasn’t sure if it was the “best medicine” to open everything up 100%.
“If we don’t watch out I’m always afraid of whiplash that could come.”
Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey also announced Friday the state would be ending occupancy limits but that social distancing and mask wearing would stay in place. Democratic Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said the state would be rolling back capacity limits on businesses but still keeping its mask mandate in place.