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Gov. Jim Justice had every right to call out fellow Republican governors for playing political football with mask mandates. And we are glad that he did because it was a good look for the state.

In an appearance on – clutch your pearls – CNN on Thursday, the governor criticized Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to remove his state’s mask mandate, warning it could be a “mistake.” Indeed, masks assist in stopping the transmission of Covid-19 and, as such, they save lives.

We just hope the governor, announcing on Friday that he was relaxing standards and opening up the state a little more aggressively than what we are comfortable with, knows what he is doing. To go backwards in our fight against this insidious and highly infectious disease would be demoralizing and, quite possibly, tragic at a time when we seem to have good news arriving daily.

At his Friday pandemic press briefing, the governor announced a whole fistful of restrictions that he was lifting. Seating capacities at restaurants and bars are back to 100 percent – just as long as social distancing can be maintained. The governor also opened up capacity for public gatherings to 100 people and gave his blessing to 100 percent capacity at museums and fitness centers.

The problem, of course, is similar to the mask mandate. Who is in charge of monitoring public spaces and measuring the distance between restaurant tables?

We still can’t go to the grocery store without seeing people without masks while others have not mastered the rather simple art of keeping both mouth and nose covered.

So when the governor announces that he is loosening restrictions and the public sees health-related statistics falling, we are concerned that people don’t let down their guard just in time for a virus variant to show up and put a whole bunch of people back into the intensive care unit.

Yes, we are just a little nervous about it all. The summer surge was bad enough but the holiday numbers were overwhelming. And now, on our way out of that mess, even as we approach 525,000 deaths across the states, even as we count another 65,682 new daily illnesses and even as, here in the Mountain State, we count 326 new infections, 5,984 active cases and five deaths here and 2,485 across the U.S. on Friday, we just want some assurance that the governor is doing the right thing. And, we know, it is partly because it seems we are so much closer to the end of this ordeal than we are to its beginnings.

Again, the news is feeding our optimism. The Senate just passed a Covid relief bill and the House is likely to move it along for President Joe Biden to sign into law.

It is, The Economist reports, more popular than the 2017 Trump tax cuts and the Affordable Care Act along with a whole bunch of other measures. And there is good reason it is among the most popular pieces of legislation in decades.

It’s not just the money that the bill is distributing to millions of Americans, but the additional assistance in manufacturing, distributing and administering Covid vaccines that should put a cap on this new administration’s response to the pandemic and brighten everyone’s day.

Already, the Biden administration has nearly doubled the pace of inoculations – up to 2 million doses administered daily.

With a third vaccine – this one using a single-shot protocol – we may very well, as the president suggests, have enough vaccine available for every American by the end of May – before summer festivals, weddings, vacations, baseball games and holidays.

We just need to be disciplined enough to get there healthy and whole.

As it stands, the infection rate is falling across the country and state as the nation’s economy is rising. Like we said, good news is coming in buckets these days.

For his part, Justice said he is not taking his responsibility lightly.

“It’s my 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,” the governor said.

Fine, governor. We hope we are wrong. We just think you may be jumping the gun – and it especially concerns us when we are so close to the finish line that we can see it dead ahead.

We cannot celebrate until we have won the race. We think there are laps remaining.

— The Register-Herald

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