CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice blasted critics of his mask mandate Wednesday, saying he would not follow the lead of other Republican governors rejecting the advice of public health experts.
“I don’t want to be South Dakota,” Justice said at a news conference. He then played a news clip from the state, where Gov. Kristi Noem has refused to issue a mask mandate, reporting that South Dakota has the most deaths per capita linked to COVID-19 in the world.
There are 13 states currently without a statewide mask mandate in effect, all led by Republican governors.
“I know that we are a strong willed people in West Virginia and we have our rights and no one is trying to infringe on your rights in any way,” he added, a reference to some conservatives in the state who criticize his pandemic executive orders.
Justice has vocally defended mask wearing and recently tightened a mandate to wear one indoors when in public at all times as cases have skyrocketed in rural enclaves. He has resisted more stringent lockdown measures and championed for schools to stay open where outbreaks are less severe.
The state has broken its record for daily new coronavirus cases several times in November. On Wednesday, it reported 743 confirmed cases and 13 new deaths. In total the state has had 37,304 confirmed cases and 695 deaths.