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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice Tightens Mask Mandate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday that facial coverings will be required at all times in businesses and other indoor spaces starting at midnight.

The Republican governor said businesses will need to post signs notifying entrants of the mask requirement under his executive order.

"It's just silly to be in a public building with strangers walking around without a mask on," Justice said at his coronavirus press conference. "Even if you have this macho belief or whatever it may be, it's silly."

Justice first issued an indoor mask order in July, but it did not require masks if social distancing was possible. The new mandate requires masks at all times except when eating or drinking.

Justice also said Friday that public and private schools will need to refrain from in-person instruction from Thanksgiving through Dec. 3. All winter high school sports are postponed until Jan. 11, 2021, and band events are also curtailed, with spring festivals in public schools and concerts through the end of the year canceled.

On Friday, the state reported 563 new confirmed coronavirus cases and a peak in hospitalizations at 339 patients with COVID-19.

"This is not panic situation on the hospitals, but it is a warning opportunity" to take virus precautions more seriously, said Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state's coronavirus response.

The state also reported 11 new deaths caused by COVID-19, bringing the death toll to at least 565.

Justice urged businesses that encounter patrons not wearing a mask to call the police.

He said his legal counsel has said law enforcement can charge individuals and businesses with obstruction of justice for disobeying the governor's executive order on facial coverings.

Children under the age of 9 and anyone with trouble breathing are exempted from the mask requirement indoors.

(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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