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To mask or not to mask: That is the question.

Around urban Cabell County, the question has been answered with a resounding “Yes, we will mask in public spaces, in line with Gov. Jim Justice’s mandate.” Few shoppers can be seen defying that mandate in restaurants, fast-food places and chain retail stores such as Kroger and Target.

Signs stating “Mask Required” are posted on almost all chain store entryways that I’ve checked, including the convenience stores attached to service stations.

Justice is one of only two Republican governors nationwide to have laid down a mask-wearing mandate. The other GOP governor to do so is Maryland’s Larry Hogan.

Despite issuing the mask mandate, Justice has been a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, who has refused to issue a national mandate and has been openly dismissive of mask wearing. Hogan, in contrast, has been a vocal critic of the president during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The other 19 states with mask mandates in force are captained by Democratic governors, including West Virginia neighbors Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Some appear to regard going maskless as a political statement in support of Trump. I’ve considered doing on-the-spot interviews with those shunning masks, but I’m wary of getting into a ruckus. Nationally, fights have broken out between two or more people in such dialogues, and in a few instances violence with lethal weapons has ensued.

In more rural areas of the Tri-State, from what I’ve experienced, the tendency to go maskless in public spaces is more common. This seems to be especially so in independent auto repair shops. I’ve had my van periodically over at a shop in Proctorville, Ohio, and none of the employees and few of the customers have been wearing a mask.

Then again Ohio has a GOP governor, Mike DeWine, who has not issued the kind of mandate that fellow Republicans Justice and Hogan have laid down. DeWine has said publicly, however, that he would consider a mandate. As of Sunday, Ohio had logged 137,405 COVID cases and 4,415 deaths.

West Virginia has been one of the lowest among the 50 states in terms of overall cases, as of Sunday 12,699 and 266 deaths. That said, over the past 10 days, alarms have been sounded over stunning rises in COVID cases in the Mountain State, due in part to college students indulging in weekend parties with no social distancing and few masks.

West Virginia University has switched from in-person to online classes due to COVID outbreaks. Marshall has been doing better and is operating with a mix of in-person and online classes.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Trump administration’s leading infectious disease expert on COVID-19, has said time and again that mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing are all key to bringing the pandemic under control.

John Patrick Grace won national awards in healthcare and environmental reporting while on staff at The Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record in the 1970s. He is now a book editor based in Cabell County.

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