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COVID-19 Hospitalizations Reach a Pandemic-High in West Virginia

Photo courtesy of W.Va. Governor’s Office -- Gov. Jim Justice again stressed the importance of COVID-19 vaccines during an October briefing.

PARKERSBURG — West Virginia recorded its highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Wednesday, and the state’s coronavirus “czar” expects the figure to continue to rise.

“We are very, very worried that our hospital numbers have not come close to peaking yet,” Dr. Clay Marsh said during Gov. Jim Justice’s online COVID-19 briefing.

The previous high number of people hospitalized in the state with the virus was 1,012 on Sept. 24 amid the surge attributed to the virus’ delta variant. The more-infectious omicron variant has now supplanted it, accounting for 94% of cases tested with genetic sequencing as of Monday, Marsh said.

While omicron tends to have less severe effects on people, the sheer numbers of infections have caused cases and hospitalizations to rise again. On Wednesday, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported 1,043 hospitalizations.

“Our hospitals are full, and in the U.S., our death rates have now exceeded the death rates on (an) average daily basis of what we saw during delta, most likely because of the really great numbers of people that are hospitalized,” Marsh said.

The best protection against hospitalization and death as a result of the variant remains the same as earlier incarnations, he said.

“New data from the CDC would say that your risk of dying from omicron is a hundred — hundred — times higher if you are unvaccinated, versus if you’re fully vaccinated and boosted,” Marsh said. “And data from Israel illustrates that if you’re fully vaccinated and boosted, you also have a lower risk of long COVID symptoms related to infections with omicron. … Your risk of being hospitalized is substantially diminished, 50 times or so, if you’re over 65 and 44 times if you’re over 50.”

Responding to a question from a reporter about alternative approaches people who refuse to be vaccinated can take, Dr. Ayne Amjad, state health officer, said nothing is comparable.

“There isn’t anything right now that’s going to work better than the vaccine,” she said.

“You can take all the vitamins you want, but it’s really not going to help you right now.”

Officials discussed updates to treatment for COVID-19, including the federal Food and Drug Administration’s decision to revoke emergency authorization for monoclonal antibody drugs from Regeneron and Eli Lilly because they don’t work as effectively against the omicron variant due to mutations to its spike proteins.

“Now we are really focused on the sotrovimab, which is the new antibody that does bind with enough binding power that it can still benefit people who have omicron,” Marsh said.

But that antibody treatment, from GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology, is in limited supply.

Ideally the state would be receiving 1,000 units a week from the federal government, said James Hoyer, head of the state’s joint interagency task force.

“But because of the supply chain restrictions, we get 312,” he said.

The units are distributed weekly across the state based on orders from hospitals and other facilities, Hoyer said. Procedures also are in place to transfer units to areas of need when available.

The Paxlovid antiviral treatment is available in a number of locations across the state, including pharmacies, Hoyer said. But it presents challenges due to potentially harmful effects for individuals taking certain other medications, he said.

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