Indoor mask mandate ends on West Virginia’s 158th birthday

Northeast

A person holds a mask while walking outside in Philadelphia, Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice declared an end to the state’s indoor mask requirement Sunday as a $1 million winner was revealed in a drawing for residents who have received the coronavirus vaccine.

Karen Foley of Mineral Wells won the top prize announced on a sweltering Father’s Day at the Capitol Complex in Charleston during a celebration of the state’s 158th birthday.

“Now we’re going to probably change somebody’s life in lots of ways,” Justice said before Foley’s name was announced.

Prizes in separate drawings also held Sunday included custom pickup trucks, state park weekend trips, lifetime hunting and fishing licenses, and hunting rifles and shotguns. Two younger vaccinated residents won college scholarships, which includes tuition, room and board, and books.

Justice announced a series of random drawings on May 27. The deadline for Sunday’s drawing was last Wednesday and the winners were drawn Thursday. More than 246,000 West Virginians had registered. The names of entrants who don’t win will be carried over week to week.

Residents can still sign up for six other drawings, which will be held on Wednesdays from June 30 to Aug. 4. The final drawing will include a $1.588 million grand prize and a $588,000 second prize.

West Virginia’s drawings were inspired by similar ones hatched by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

Justice, a Republican, initially announced last month that the state was giving away $100 gift cards or savings bonds for vaccinated residents ages 16 to 35. With the latest prizes, he’s trying to inject new life into a vaccine drive that drastically slowed down after a strong early start.

More than half of the state’s residents have received at least one vaccine dose, while 44% are fully inoculated, according to state data. Justice had projected that more than two-thirds of eligible residents ages 12 and over would be vaccinated by the time the mask mandate was removed. But the state fell short of that goal — 61.5% had received at least one dose by Sunday.

The lifting of the indoor mask mandate comes 11 months after Justice issued the order after months of simply urging residents to wear them.

The state has not seen daily confirmed cases surpass 200 this month after peaking at more than 1,900 in early January. The number of residents hospitalized from the virus Sunday was at its lowest point since last August and the number of statewide active cases, 2,521, hasn’t been this low since early September.

Justice said only people who get vaccinated have the chance to have their names read as prize winners. Those who don’t get vaccinated take the risk of being hospitalized or worse — become one of the deceased that the governor mentions at his weekly news conferences.

“You’re in a drawing to see if your number’s going to be drawn and you’re going to be one of those that I read that have passed on,” Justice said. “It’s a heck of a choice in my book.”

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