As the song says, West Virginia is “almost heaven.” And maybe especially without face masks.
So it seemed Thursday when hometown girl-made-good Jennifer Garner joined first lady Jill Biden and a planeload of Washington types to spotlight the state’s vaccine distribution success and ongoing efforts to relieve child poverty.
And they were all mask-less, in keeping with the new CDC guidance for people who are fully vaccinated. During the flight from Washington, Dr. Anthony Fauci was on CNN advising vaccinated people to drop the masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.
Biden arrived in Charleston accompanied by multiple staff members, a media pool, plus U.S. Senator Joe Manchin and his wife, Gayle, who also weren’t wearing masks.
Manchin is the politico of the moment in Washington: The moderate Democrat from West Virginia holds the make-or-break vote for administration policies in the evenly divided U.S. Senate. Gayle Manchin is the Senate-confirmed co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Greeting them at the airport: Garner, a Save the Children ambassador who grew up in Charleston, and Mark Shriver, the Kennedy cousin who is president of Save the Children Action Network, which advocates for humanitarian aid to children experiencing poverty in the U.S. and around the world.
“Today is a great day for America,” President Joe Biden said during a Rose Garden address heralding the new mask guidance.
We’re getting back to those things that we lost for so long, hugging the people we love, smiling at strangers. I mean, how great will that be?” the first lady said in her remarks in Charleston. “And it’s because this state worked so hard to step up and get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
“We feel free!” Manchin celebrated to reporters.
Garner showed up wearing a mask but took it off at the airport. Biden and Garner, who know each other through Save the Children, spent several minutes talking animatedly before posing for a round of photos.
The group headed for a vaccination clinic for students ages 12-15 at Capital High School in Charleston, the state’s capital and most populous city.
The first lady delivered remarks focused on the safety of vaccines and the Biden administration’s national campaign to get as many Americans as possible protected from COVID-19. West Virginia has won high marks in recent weeks for its high vaccination rate due to community trust in its local pharmacies.