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West Virginia Coronavirus Czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, Touts West Virginia’s ‘Culture of Service’ in Fighting Virus

CHARLESTON — Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus czar, told a congressional committee Tuesday that the state’s culture of service was one reason why West Virginia has one of the best COVID-19 vaccine rates in the nation.

Marsh was among several witnesses Tuesday during a virtual hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

During the hearing, titled “No Time to Lose: Solutions to Increase COVID-19 Vaccinations in the States,” Marsh spoke about West Virginia’s successful COVID-19 vaccination program as a guest of 1st District Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.

Marsh, the vice president and executive dean for Health Sciences at West Virginia University, said a culture of community, volunteerism, and service have helped the state come together to quickly mobilize vaccination efforts.

“In West Virginia, we recognize that ultimately it is culture that plays the most important role in outcomes,” Marsh said. “That’s really been a hallmark of what we try to do is really move toward a level of committed purpose and service to people.”

Citing the book, “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable,” Marsh said the state quickly recognized the COVID-19 pandemic was a once-in-a-lifetime event and accordingly responded, quickly limiting visitations to long-term care facilities and testing all residents and staff.

Instead of waiting on a federal government plan to utilize national pharmacy chains to vaccinate nursing home residents and staff, the state partnered with local pharmacies and began vaccinations of long-term care residents and staff as soon as the state received the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 14. By the end of December, long-term care residents and staff had received the first dose. By the end of last week, the state wrapped up administering the second doses to residents and staff.

“(Gov. Jim Justice) gave us a directive to save lives, to improve wellbeing, and to maintain the capacity and the function of vital healthcare and industry sectors and less Virginia,” Marsh said.

“As we started to look at our own state’s needs, we figured out that we had about 250 pharmacies in West Virginia – half of which were privately owned – instead of activating the federal program,” Marsh continued. “We went a different direction and started partnering these pharmacies with nursing homes. And we were able to immunize all of our nursing homes and assisted-living residents before the new year. And we’ve just finished on our second doses, which has been great because we know half of our deaths come from this population.”

West Virginia also started focusing on the vaccination of West Virginians age 65 and older. As of Tuesday, Marsh said more than 90,000 residents older than age 65 have been vaccinated. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, West Virginia has administered a total 260,325 first and second doses of the Pfizer of Moderna vaccines, more than 85 percent of the doses sent to the state to date. The only state with a better rate is Alaska.

McKinley, speaking during the virtual hearing, praised the administration of former president Donald Trump and Operation: Warp Speed, the Trump plan to help fund development and distribution of vaccine doses. McKinley criticized other states for not moving as quickly as West Virginia in developing distribution plans.

“For people to say there were no plans, that just means the states didn’t create one that works,” McKinley said. “It’s the job of the states to put it in people’s arms, but it seems that states can’t even get that right.”

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