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Third West Virginia Corrections Officer Dies From COVID-19

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 briefing in November.

PARKERSBURG — A third correctional officer in West Virginia has succumbed to the COVID-19 virus, Gov. Jim Justice said Monday.

Paula Jo Tomblin, 51, of Middleport, Ohio, died Jan. 22 at the Holzer Medical Center in Gallipolis. She was a correctional officer at the Lakin Correctional Center — a women’s correctional facility in Mason County — where her husband also is an officer, Justice said during his Monday morning pandemic briefing.

“We just hate it,” he said. “Daggone, I just hate it.”

Two correctional officers died in 2021, Cpl. Mark Rustemeyer, 58, of Sistersville, who worked at the St. Marys Correctional Center, and Lt. Delmar Dean, 49, of Weirton, an officer at Northern Regional Jail in Marshall County.

Justice said there are 559 inmate cases and 190 staff cases of the virus.

“Way, way, way up,” the governor said.

Hospitalizations also are nearing the record of 1,012 set on Sept. 14. On Monday, 976 COVID patients were in a state hospital, 646 of them unvaccinated.

Hospitals are operating at a crisis standard of care, according to James Hoyer, director of the interagency task force on vaccines, and Dr. Clay Marsh, coronavirus leader and adviser in West Virginia.

“We are at that point now. We have a number of our hospitals that are operating at crisis standards of care right now,” Hoyer said, adding some procedures are being put off.

“I think it’s really important to understand, it is now not just a matter of capacity of beds in hospitals,” Hoyer said, “but it is a staffing issue as well and to include providers who may not be available to do procedures.”

The challenge is significant for the state, Hoyer warned.

“We have hit a point, close to the maximum point of the delta surge, and we believe, unfortunately, we are going to see that go beyond that,” he said. “It is going to continue to challenge our hospitals significantly and don’t forget, it is also challenging our emergency management system, our ambulance systems, our long-term care facilities.”

The three levels of the standards of care include conventional with normal ratios of nursing and staffing to patients and a contingency standard of care where there are some alterations to the ratios while maintaining a full slate of surgeries and other procedures, said Marsh.

Then there are crisis standards of care where certain elective procedures are not performed and staffing ratios and other practices can’t be followed because of the severity of the surge on the hospital system, he said.

“We are at that level,” Marsh said.

Getting vaccinated and getting the booster shots are critical in slowing the spread of the virus, he said.

People should be reassured all emergency services can be provided, Marsh said.

“The problem is as we get more and more full, then there’s harder times moving people through the system,” Marsh said.

Members of the National Guard are being deployed to hospitals to aid staff, said Hoyer, the retired adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard. The Guard has assigned 188 members at 27 facilities with more to follow, he said.

The projection is 350 guardsmen will be assigned, Hoyer said.

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