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COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations Show Signs Of Slowing in West Virginia

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. (NIAID-RML via AP)

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s number of active COVID-19 cases continued their downward trajectory, with hospitalizations beginning to follow suit.

“The numbers are absolutely reflective of the fact that we’re going through the peak, and it looks like we’re starting to turn down,” Gov. Jim Justice said during his Monday COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol. “It’s great news.”

According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVID-19 dashboard, active cases continued downward after a brief uptick toward the end of last week.

The state Monday reported 14,534 active cases, down from 16,223 active cases Thursday and 29,744 active cases on Sept. 16 when the state’s delta variant wave first peaked.

DHHR’s County Alert System map shows 32 counties still in the red for the most severe infection rates and percent of positivity. Another 18 counties have stepped down to orange, the next-to-worst category, with two counties in the gold, one county in the yellow, and Pocahontas and Tucker counties in the green.

Inpatient and ICU bed usage is also coming down in West Virginia. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, inpatient bed usage dropped from 4,920 to 4,653 over the last seven days, or from 89.2% statewide total occupancy to 77.68%. Only 18.32% of inpatient beds in use are for treating people with severe COVID-19 infections.

ICU bed usage dropped slightly over the same period of time, from 590 ICU beds to 582, or 86.38% statewide ICU usage to 85.09%. However, COVID-19 patients are the ones taking up a significant portion of ICU beds. More than 45% of the state’s ICU beds in use are because of COVID-19 patients.

“They’re down a little bit, but not much,” Justice said. “All of this tells us just this: It seems like we’re in a hold pattern right at the peak, but it looks like that hold pattern could absolutely start flowing our way.”

According to DHHR, 81.5% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 in West Virginia are unvaccinated, with 87.1% of ICU hospitalizations being unvaccinated people. Even though the vaccines have proven effective, Justice said that the number of vaccinated people in hospitals combined with the number of older and vulnerable West Virginians as much as 10 months out from their last shot prove the need for boosters.

“If 20% of the people in the hospitals…are fully vaccinated, what does that tell us? It tells us we really need the booster shots,” Justice said. “Because those who are fully vaccinated, if they’re out past six months, the effectiveness is wearing down.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended Pfizer booster shots last week for those age 65 and older, those age 18 and older in long-term care settings and people ages 50-64 with underlying medical conditions. The CDC also said those ages 18-49 with underlying medical conditions and people ages 18-64 at greater risk of COVID exposure due to their jobs may be eligible for boosters.

“We’ve had good success with the booster being rolled out,” said James Hoyer, leader of the state joint interagency vaccine task force. “A lot of people work behind-the-scenes to make sure those shots are in the right places across the state of West Virginia so they can go easily into the arms of those who will take them, whether they need a third dose, a booster dose or a first dose.”

So far, only 64.3% of eligible West Virginians age 12 and older have at least one shot of either the two-dose Pfizer or Modern vaccines. Only 56.4% of West Virginians are fully vaccinated with either Pfizer, Modern, or the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. More than 18,000 total doses have been administered over the last seven days.

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