West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday that he disagreed with the decisions by fellow Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi to lift mask mandates, calling such steps unwise and reflective of a “macho” mentality.
“I don’t want to be critical, but some people want to just move because it’s the most politically correct thing that they can do,” Justice told CNN’s John King, when questioned about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves each announcing the end of state mask mandates this week. “It becomes almost a macho thing... In West Virginia, we want to be cautious, we want to be safe, we want to be respectful of everybody’s rights.”
Justice said he had not broached ending West Virginia’s mask mandate with his medical team. He stressed that his state ― which boasts one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world thanks to a strong rollout through coordination with local pharmacies and the National Guard ― had listened to scientific experts and exercised caution regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to do the smart thing in West Virginia,” he said.
The governor said he was not a fan of “crazy masks” himself, but added, “As we continue to vaccinate more and more and more, we’ll get rid of the mask.”
“I don’t know really what the big rush to get rid of the mask is, because these masks have saved a lot of lives,” he said. “And even the most confident person that doesn’t want anything to do with the mask is still saying they saved lives. And so at the end of the day, I don’t know what the rush is, and if we don’t watch out, we can make some mistakes.”
This is not the first occasion that “Big Jim” Justice, a noted ally of former President Donald Trump, has differed from GOP colleagues on coronavirus-related issues. He also has been a vocal proponent of quickly passing President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which Republicans in Congress have opposed. In an interview last month with The New York Times, he argued that the U.S. needed to “go bold and go big” on pandemic recovery efforts.
“I have been a business guy all my life, and I know that when you have a real problem, you can’t cut your way out of the problem,” Justice told the Times. “Too often we try to skinny everything down and not fund it properly.”
Justice won his first term in 2016 as a Democrat but quickly switched parties and aligned himself with Trump. He won a second term last November with almost 65% of the vote.