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CHARLESTON — As of midnight Tuesday, face masks or coverings will become mandatory inside public buildings in West Virginia as the state sees a spike in community spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Jim Justice on Monday signed an executive order requiring those 9 and older to wear a mask inside buildings where social distancing is not possible. Those with respiratory conditions, such as COPD or asthma, are exempt.

Justice said he knows it won’t be popular, but his health experts have told him it must be done to try and slow down the spread of the virus.

There were 107 new positive cases reported Monday statewide and the daily positive rate was 4%, some of the highest totals since the pandemic began. Dr. Clay Marsh, state coronavirus czar, said the state saw its biggest increase yet of cases contracted through community spread, versus the congregate setting.

There were also 41 people hospitalized with the virus, with 13 in intensive care units and six on ventilators.

West Virginia has the seventh highest R-naught level in the country at 1.26, which means every person who has COVID-19 will spread it to 1.26 people.

“We are in a situation where we have to move right now,” Justice said. “If we don’t, we could be in a world of hurt.”

Justice said if the mask mandate does not help slow the spread of the virus, the next step would be pulling back on the reopenings and possibly closing businesses back down.

“If you don’t decide to wear it for yourself, if you don’t decide to do it for a loved one or friend, do it for the 95 that we lost,” he said, referencing West Virginians who have died from the virus. “If we don’t, we are going to have to pull back and shut down.”

Justice and Marsh cited an analysis by the Philadelphia Inquirer that found coronavirus appears to be increasing in states with more relaxed mask policies.

Of the 16 states where masks are currently recommended, but not required — including Texas and Arizona — new coronavirus cases have risen by 84% over the last two weeks, according to the report.

In the 11 states that mandate wearing masks in public — including New York, Illinois and Michigan — new cases have fallen by 25% over the last two weeks.

Other states that are less stringent and require mask-wearing by employees and patrons of certain businesses have seen an overall 12% drop in cases. Pennsylvania, which is in this group, has seen a 28% drop. The state just made face masks mandatory for all outside the home last week.

Meanwhile, states that require masks only for employees of certain businesses have seen a 70% increase, on average, in new cases, according to the Inquirer.

West Virginia has had no mandates for masks thus far, with officials just strongly recommending face coverings. There has been an 89% increase in cases.

Justice said he expects people to wear a mask if they work in an office. If you go to eat at a restaurant, take the mask off to eat but put it on to go to the bathroom. If you go to the store, wear a mask.

There are no penalties for not wearing a face covering, but Justice said he expects businesses to help enforce the order. He said he has “all the confidence in the world” that West Virginians will do the right thing.

“But I ask you as West Virginians, I ask you to respect all the wishes of all those out there,” he said, “and what is the downside (to wearing a mask)?”

Marsh reiterated it does not have to be a surgical mask, but said coverings such as a cloth face mask, a bandana or even a kitchen towel all work to reduce droplet spread.

He said a plastic face shield would be a good alternative for those who cannot wear a mask/covering.

Face masks have become politicized, partly due to U.S. health experts at the start of the pandemic telling the public not to wear masks to conserve them for hospital use. It was also not known how effective masks could be at preventing the spread of this new virus.

Now, however, studies show that if upwards of 80% of the population wear face masks, spread of the virus is greatly reduced.

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department reported last week people not wearing masks or social distancing was part of the cause of the spike of cases in the county.

There were 161 cases in Cabell County on Monday, with 76 active.

Cases per county (case confirmed by lab test/probable case): Barbour (17/0), Berkeley (474/18), Boone (24/0), Braxton (3/0), Brooke (14/1), Cabell (161/6), Calhoun (2/0), Clay (11/0), Fayette (72/0), Gilmer (13/0), Grant (15/1), Greenbrier (66/0), Hampshire (42/0), Hancock (29/3), Hardy (44/1), Harrison (79/0), Jackson (145/0), Jefferson (240/5), Kanawha (346/9), Lewis (19/1), Lincoln (9/0), Logan (26/0), Marion (85/3), Marshall (43/1), Mason (21/0), McDowell (6/0), Mercer (57/0), Mineral (56/2), Mingo (20/3), Monongalia (285/14), Monroe (15/1), Morgan (19/1), Nicholas (14/1), Ohio (109/1), Pendleton (13/1), Pleasants (4/1), Pocahontas (30/1), Preston (73/16), Putnam (68/1), Raleigh (62/1), Randolph (169/2), Ritchie (2/0), Roane (11/0), Summers (2/0), Taylor (16/1), Tucker (6/0), Tyler (5/0), Upshur (20/1), Wayne (119/1), Webster (1/0), Wetzel (18/0), Wirt (5/0), Wood (124/8), Wyoming (7/0).

In Ohio, the Lawrence County Health Department reported one new active case, bringing the total active cases to 13. There have been 73 total cases.

Statewide, there were 805 new positive cases reported, for a total of 57,956, and 16 new deaths, for a total of 2,927.

In Kentucky, the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department reported two new positive cases: a 57-year-old female who is hospitalized and a 44-year-old female isolated at home. It brings the active cases in Boyd County to 25.

Statewide, there were 268 new cases reported, for a total of 17,152, and eight new deaths, for a total of 593.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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