Gov. Justice proposes bill requiring vaccine exemptions


CHARLESTON — During Wednesday’s press briefing, Gov. Jim Justice announced that he has amended his recent Special Session call to include a bill that would clarify that any government or private business that wishes to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine must also allow exemptions to that mandate for medical or religious reasons.

“I’ve stood rock solid that I’m against mandates,” Gov. Justice said. “I firmly believe that this country is founded upon our rights and freedoms. That’s really the ingredient that makes America great.”

“Now, I stand behind the rights of our private businesses, but at the same time, they need to comply with the law of the land,” Gov. Justice continued. “This is a common sense bill because federal law already says you have to allow for these exemptions. Our military has mandated vaccines. However, they are allowing these exemptions to be claimed. Our own Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, has written a legal opinion which confirms that we must offer these exemptions.”

The Governor went on to clarify that this bill would still allow businesses to mandate COVID-19 vaccines, so long as the appropriate exemptions are available.

“We’re joining many other states that are clarifying this law, but we are not joining other states in restricting businesses from choosing what is best for them,” Gov. Justice said. “This bill does not affect any of the other vaccines that are currently mandated in our public schools like the vaccines for mumps, measles, and rubella, all of which have been around for a long time. This is only for the COVID-19 vaccine.”

“Even though I wholeheartedly support the COVID vaccine, and I will continue to encourage people to take the COVID vaccine because I truly believe in my heart that it is very safe, it should not be mandated when it hasn’t even been approved for children ages 5 to 11 yet,” Gov. Justice added. “We’ve all heard the stories, recently, about West Virginians being fired from their jobs for not taking the COVID vaccine and that’s not right.”

The amendment to the Special Session call also includes a bill to provide a supplemental appropriation of $4 million to backfill the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants, which go toward providing direct services such as counseling, personal advocacy, court advocacy, client transportation, and support services to victims of crimes including domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, and elder abuse.

Gov. Justice reported that there are now 9,703 active cases statewide; down by 858 cases since his previous briefing on Monday and the first briefing day under 10,000 active cases since Aug. 20.

The active case count is down by 20,041 cases since peaking less than a month ago, dropping by more than two-thirds (67.4%) in that timeframe.

The state also continues to see a steady downward trend in the number of severe COVID cases.

The number of hospitalizations, patients in ICUs, and patients on ventilators have all dropped between 10.3% and 19.3% since peaking in the final week of September.

The number of hospitalizations is now 823; down by 75 over the past week. Since peaking at 1,012, hospitalizations have dropped by 189 (18.7%).

The number of patients in ICUs is now 239; down by 21 over the past week. Since peaking at 296, the number of patients in ICUs has dropped by 57 (19.3%).

The number of patients on ventilators is now 175; down by three over the past week. Since peaking at 195, the number of patients on ventilators has dropped by 20 (10.3%).

The County Alert System map is also showing modest improvement, with 18 red counties, 23 orange counties, six gold counties, six yellow counties, and two green counties.

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