Final vaccine push begins as mask removal date approaches

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Jun. 11—CHARLESTON — With masks coming off for everyone in 10 days, state officials in West Virginia are making a final vaccine push.

During a virtual pandemic briefing Thursday, Governor Jim Justice confirmed that 18 of the 24 COVID-19 deaths reported by the state Department of Health and Human Resources a day earlier were actually from the months of April and May. Two of those 18 deaths were local with one involving a resident of Mercer County and another being a resident of McDowell County.

The Republican governor said the delay in the reporting of those virus-related deaths was the result of continuing data reconciliation with the official death certificates. He then pleaded with state residents who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated so that additional deaths will not occur.

"We've got to stop the deaths," Justice said. "We can do it. We can do it with vaccinations."

Virus numbers are still trending in the right direction in West Virginia, and the state's mask mandate will be lifted for everyone — regardless of their vaccination status — come Sunday, June 20.

The DHHR reported 119 new virus cases Thursday, which is up from Wednesday when only 90 new virus cases were reported. The number of active virus cases statewide Thursday was down to 3,229.

Locally, Mercer County is now down to 238 active virus cases. That's a decrease from Wednesday when the county was reporting 242 active virus cases. Mercer County also has now topped the 40 percent mark in terms of the number of citizens who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. A number of residents have been vaccinated in recent days at the Cole Chevy Mountain Festival where the Mercer County Health Department has a COVID-19 vaccine booth set up at the midway area.

McDowell County is down to 42 active virus cases and Monroe County is now reporting only 32 active virus cases.

Justice said that 60.1 percent of all West Virginians who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine have now received at least one dose. To date, 936,453 of 1,557,837 vaccine-eligible West Virginians have received their first shot, according to the governor's office.

That number will make lifting the state's mask mandate for everyone on Sunday a lot easier, although Justice resisted a suggestion from a reporter during Thursday's virtual pandemic briefing, who asked why the governor wouldn't just go ahead and lift the mask mandate today instead of waiting until Sunday.

"If we are within a week, we can stand it another week," Justice said of the mask mandate. "It's been a long road. It's been a long road for all of us. I'm not an advocate of the masks by any stretch of the imagination. But I think we can make it to June 20. We are going to get rid of those masks on June 20th for sure."

— Contact Charles Owens at

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