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Justice to lift mask mandate June 20

CHARLESTON — West Virginia will lift its mask mandate on June 20, the state’s birthday, as the target levels for vaccinations are reached, the governor said on Friday.

Sixty-five percent of the state’s population 12 years old and older should have received one or both shots by June 20, enabling the mask mandate to be lifted, Gov. Jim Justice said during Friday’s coronavirus briefing. The governor said he is basing the decision on advice from health and medical experts.

The target levels could be reached before the 158th anniversary of West Virginia’s statehood or it could come several days later, but June 20 is when the mask mandate will be removed, he said.

“That’s when we’re going to get rid of these masks,” Justice said.

The initiative to encourage everyone to get vaccinated will be called “A Call to Arms,” Justice said.

Also, residents who refuse to get a vaccination for any reason will be called the “Hell Nos,” he said. That segment of the population is small, Justice said.

The state is preparing to vaccinate 12-to-15-year-olds upon approval of the Pfizer vaccine for that age group by the Food and Drug Administration, according to James Hoyer, director of the Joint Interagency Task Force on Vaccines. Preparations have been made with schools, for example, he said.

“We will start that day or the next day,” Hoyer said.

Dr. Ayne Amjad, state health officer, cited the safety of the vaccines and pointed out misinformation that the vaccine causes infertility, miscarriages and alters DNA.

“That is also untrue,” she said.

Justice, again urging everyone to get vaccinated, said it’s likely West Virginia will reach the 65 percent threshold before June 20. Precluding any change in events, the governor said he is set on lifting the requirement on June 20.

“I think it’s set in stone,” Justice said.

Prior to the approval of vaccines in December, masks were the No. 1 way to stop the spread of the virus.

Residents who are more comfortable wearing a mask for safety reasons can wear them, Justice said. A private business can still require patrons to wear a mask, he said.

“You do what you want to do,” he said.

The projections are 65 percent of West Virginians 12 and older will have a first dose by June 20, 75 percent of those 50 and older will have a first dose and 85 percent of 65 and older will have at least one shot, Justice said. According to Friday’s update from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, 40.5 percent of residents 16 and older have received a dose.

“You may come right back and say, ‘What if you don’t hit these numbers by then?'” Justice said. “We’ll be close enough.”

Israel began seeing a positive change when it reached 60 percent of the population vaccinated, said Dr. Clay Marsh, state coronavirus czar.

“We believe we will then have the ability safely to be able to remove the mask mandate,” Marsh said.

Variants of the virus are targeting younger residents, he said.

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