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Mask-free Jennifer Garner joins Jill Biden to talk vaccination, child poverty in West Virginia

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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.

Vaccinated? CDC says it's OK to ditch masks. But it's not OK to harass people wearing them.

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.

More: Jennifer Garner and Jill Biden set to visit West Virginia school vaccination center

First lady Jill Biden (C), flanked by Mark Shriver, Jennifer Garner, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin and his wife Gayle, pose at the airport in Charleston, West Virginia on May 13, 2021.
First lady Jill Biden (C), flanked by Mark Shriver, Jennifer Garner, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin and his wife Gayle, pose at the airport in Charleston, West Virginia on May 13, 2021.

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.

More: Jennifer Garner on growth amid pandemic: 'I'm fine being in the house by myself if my kids are with their dad'

Jennifer Garner (R) looks on as first lady Jill Biden speaks with a child getting vaccinated at Capital High School in Charleston, West Virginia on May 13, 2021.
Jennifer Garner (R) looks on as first lady Jill Biden speaks with a child getting vaccinated at Capital High School in Charleston, West Virginia on May 13, 2021.

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.

“Now, there's a fair amount of misinformation out there, and some of my friends have asked me, is vaccination safe? And you all know the answer is yes," Biden said in remarks at the high school. "I got my shot, and I promise it didn't even hurt, and I hate needles."

In the school gymnasium, Biden held the hand of a teenager getting vaccinated, and then asked the girl if she knew Garner. “Yes, I love all of your movies," the girl said. Garner congratulated her on getting vaccinated, and spent several minutes talking with her.

Garner, whom Manchin called a "first daughter of West Virginia" who never forgot where she came from, focused her remarks on addressing child poverty, a cause she has made her own for years, including testifying before Congress.

She also spoke with passion about the need to get vaccinated. "The most important thing we can do is get this virus behind us," she said. "And in order to do that, we have to get anyone with vaccine hesitancy into these chairs."

More: Vaxxed and vocal: John Legend shares vaccine experience, talks family life with Chrissy Teigen

Jennifer Garner speaks at Capital High School in Charleston, West Virginia during a trip with first lady Jill Biden on May 13, 2021.
Jennifer Garner speaks at Capital High School in Charleston, West Virginia during a trip with first lady Jill Biden on May 13, 2021.

The joint appearance by the first lady and Garner had been long planned but repeatedly postponed. In March, they were scheduled to visit Birmingham, Ala., to help sell the administration's stimulus plan, but the visit was canceled due to storm tornadoes in the region. The trip was rescheduled in April, but at the last minute Garner couldn't make it and Biden went to Birmingham on her own.

The West Virginia trip originally was to include a tour of Arnoldsburg Elementary School in Clay County, but that visit was canceled due to a COVID-19 quarantine in the school district.

Then, on Wednesday, the first lady's office announced that Manchin would be joining the trip. And on Thursday, Shriver's name turned up in the latest update about the trip.

Biden and Garner have met before. In October, Garner hosted a virtual conversation with Biden to discuss her priorities for the country and her plans should President Joe Biden, then a candidate, win the 2020 presidential election.

Garner assured Biden then that "moms are gonna put you in the White House."

More: Jennifer Garner tells Jill Biden that moms will 'put you in the White House'

Jennifer Garner reads a book with her mother Pat to a group of Head Start children to help launch the 2009 State of the World's Mothers Report at the Rosemount Center on May 5, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Jennifer Garner reads a book with her mother Pat to a group of Head Start children to help launch the 2009 State of the World's Mothers Report at the Rosemount Center on May 5, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Garner previously testified before Congress on behalf of Save the Children in support of education programs for preschoolers in poverty. The mother of three has been a member of the organization’s board of trustees since 2014.

In 2017, the actress testified on Capitol Hill and recalled growing up in West Virginia around children in poverty, telling lawmakers that she “couldn’t stand up for them back then, but I can stand up for their families now.”

In 2016, Garner addressed the Kentucky legislature with Shriver to celebrate the impact of Save the Children's early childhood and literacy programs in the state.

Garner shares daughters Violet, 15, Seraphina, 12, and son Samuel, 9, with ex-husband Ben Affleck.

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Contributing: Cydney Henderson, Jenna Ryu

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jennifer Garner, Jill Biden go maskless, tout vaccine in West Virginia