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Photo: Scott Halleran via Getty Images

Bars, restaurants and many other businesses in West Virginia can return to 100% capacity if social distancing can be maintained, Gov. Jim Justice (R) said Friday.

The big picture: Justice is the latest governor to lift statewide coronavirus restrictions, despite warnings from health officials.

  • Texas and Mississippi, both led by Republican governors, lifted coronavirus restrictions, including mask mandates this week. President Biden called the decisions "Neanderthal thinking."

Details: In addition to reopening venues, Justice announced that public gatherings in West Virginia are now capped at 100 people, up from a previous limit of 75.

  • Travel sports teams will be allowed to compete statewide unless a county is designated "red" on the state's coronavirus alert map.

Of note: West Virginia's mask mandate remains in place.

What they're saying: "There are absolutely points that would make us put the restrictions back on, and I hope and pray they do not come," Justice said. "I don’t know specifically what those points would be, but our medical experts are watching this around the clock."

  • Justice added that it was his "responsibility to lead us in the right path and be as cautious as I can be while still trying in every way for us to live with this terrible killer and get us back to as much normalcy as we can possibly get to."
  • Clay Marsh, the state's coronavirus czar and vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University, said in a briefing with Justice that he is "100% comfortable" Friday's decision.

West Virginia's average daily number of cases over the last week has been 266, down 20% from the average two weeks earlier, per The New York Times.

  • The state has recorded over 132,960 coronavirus cases and 2,318 deaths since the pandemic began, according to West Virginia's Department of Health and Human Resources.
  • More than 208,990 people in the state have been fully vaccinated.

Go deeper

Vaccine hesitancy drops, but with partisan divide

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

69% of the public intends to get a COVID vaccine or already has, up significantly from 60% in November, according to a report out Friday from the Pew Research Center.

Yes, but: The issue has become even more partisan, with 56% of Republicans who say they want or have already received a coronavirus vaccine compared to 83% of Democrats.

"Vaccine tourism" stretches states' supplies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans who are highly motivated to get vaccinated are traveling across state lines after hearing about larger vaccine supplies or loopholes in sign-up systems.

Why it matters: "Vaccine tourism" raises ethical and legal questions, and it could worsen the racial socioeconomic and inequalities of the pandemic.

Mar 5, 2021 - Health

Cuomo advisers reportedly altered July COVID-19 nursing homes report

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Seth Wenig/AFP via Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's advisers successfully pushed state health officials to exclude certain data on the number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths from a July report, the Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday.

Why it matters: The changes resulted in a "significant undercount of the death toll attributed to the state’s most vulnerable population," WSJ wrote.