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West Virginia Officials Repeat Pleas for COVID-19 Vaccinations, Boosters

Photo Courtesy of West Virginia Governor’s Office West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice goes over the state’s COVID-19 stats for the week during a pre-Thanksgiving briefing on Wednesday.

As the viral transmission rate for COVID-19 begins to grow, temperatures get colder and families gather for Thanksgiving, officials in West Virginia are at their wits’ end trying to encourage residents to get vaccinated and get booster shots.

“I don’t know what else to do other than come in front of you over and over and go across this state and use tools like robocalls or whatever the idea may be,” said Gov. Jim Justice during a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday.

According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, there were 6,754 active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia as of Tuesday. Active cases have remained relatively flat in November, with a 23-day average daily case number of 6,687.

The County Alert System shows 16 counties in the red for infection rates and percent of virus positivity, but 25 counties are in the next worst category of orange, meaning the level of virus spread could increase. Pleasants, Gilmer, Lewis and Tucker counties are in the green, the lowest category for virus spread.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have remained in the low 500s since last week, with 512 hospitalizations as of Wednesday. Confirmed COVID cases in state intensive care units have crept slightly upward from 171 this time last week to 183. Severe cases in need of ventilators have also crept up from 87 last week to 104 as of Wednesday.

“At the end of the first surge, we had an almost complete emptying of our hospital system of COVID patients. That is not the case during this surge,” said James Hoyer, leader of the state’s joint interagency task force on COVID-19 and vaccines. “A much greater percentage of those individuals are in the ICU and on ventilators.”

Hoyer said the virus transmission rate has increased to 1.04. Any rate higher than 1 means the virus is more rapidly replicating and spreading.

“Unfortunately, our transmission rate continues to rise,” Hoyer said. “It has gone up steadily over the past 10 days. We know from past experience and our data analytics that this is going to lead to additional challenges.”

The state reported 47 additional deaths since the last update, bringing the COVID-19 death toll in West Virginia to 4,817. The oldest were 95 — men from Jackson and Taylor counties and a woman from Kanawha County. The youngest was a 38-year old woman from Kanawha County. The state lost 92 residents to COVID since Justice’s Friday briefing.

“I know you’re sick and tired of hearing me say it, but the only way we can stop this that we know of today is to get vaccinated,” Justice said. “It’s the only way. Surely above, you can’t think this is tolerable. I don’t know how in the world you can put up in any way with me reading 92 names.”

As of Wednesday, 63.4% of eligible West Virginians ages 5 and older have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine since the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11 was approved at the beginning of November. With three weeks required between the first and second doses, children in that age group are only just now eligible for the second dose.

The state is nearing the one-year mark since the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved in December 2020. Since then, 73.8% of adults older than 50 have been fully vaccinated, representing more than 736,000 West Virginians. That percentage goes up to 82.7% for adults older than 65.

However, those percentages get worse for West Virginians younger than 50. Only 54.3% of residents between the ages of 41-50 are fully vaccinated, followed by 47.8% of residents between the age of 31-40, 40.1% of residents between the ages of 26-30, 43.2% of residents between the ages of 21-25, 42.4% of residents between the ages of 16-20, and 31.3% of children between the ages of 12-15. The state’s seven-day vaccine average remains between 5,000 and 6,000 doses, with the most recent seven-day average sitting at 5,011.

March 2022 will mark the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic in West Virginia and the state of emergency that was declared then. Despite lamenting those who refuse to get vaccinated, Justice pointed to his livestreamed COVID-19 briefings, the work of state health officials to get older and high-risk residents vaccinated and the multiple vaccine incentive lotteries as evidence of success.

“I would bet we’re approaching 300,000 people that we’ve touched in West Virginia — somewhere near 17% of the whole population — that have been vaccinated with at least one shot since we started,” Justice said. “We’re winning people over, that’s all there is to it … how many of them have we saved their lives?”

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