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West Virginia COVID-19 Hospitalizations Continue To Climb

Gov. Jim Justice announces on Dec. 23 what will be done with West Virginia’s remaining $122.8 million in CARES Act money during his Dec. 23 media briefing. (Photo Courtesy of W.Va. Governor’s Office)

WHEELING — West Virginia on Friday eclipsed its record of COVID-19 hospitalizations it set just two days prior, Gov. Jim Justice said.

During his virtual COVID briefing with state reporters on Friday, Justice announced COVID-related hospitalizations had reached 1,088 on Thursday — the highest number since the pandemic began. It was just Wednesday when Justice announced the previous record of 1,043 hospitalizations.

“We are flooding our hospitals,” Justice said. “If we don’t watch out, we’re going to have real problems.”

Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID “czar,” backed up Justice’s statement. But he also offered encouragement that the number of cases soon may start to decline.

“When we look at our cases, it looks like maybe we are starting to plateau, and maybe even come down,” he said. “But that could be premature, and we’ll see how things unfold over the next several days.”

Once the number of overall COVID cases decline, the number of hospitalizations should reduce, and then the number of deaths, Marsh explained.

Numbers as of Friday morning showed West Virginia now with 5,743 deaths attributed to COVID. Among the 1,088 hospitalized, at least 225 were in intensive care units, with 122 on ventilators, according to State Department of Health and Human Resources statistics.

James Hoyer, director of the state’s joint interagency task force, surmised West Virginia was on a path to reach 6,400 fatalities by mid-February.

West Virginia National Guard members have been called upon to provide support functions at 39 healthcare facilities around the state – among them four long-term healthcare facilities, state hospitals and the West Virginia Veterans Home, according to Hoyer.

In total, 339 guard members have been called to assist healthcare facilities, he said. Guard members arrived in the Northern Panhandle on Wednesday – 10 at WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital and seven at WVU Medicine Reynolds Memorial Hospital.

Justice reported there are now 1,000 people within West Virginia’s prison system with COVID, and he and his team were asked whether National Guard members may be sent to assist at corrections facilities.

“We’re going to see if additional manpower might be available with corrections,” Hoyer said. “I hope people understand that 86% of our National Guard members have civilian jobs, and we have challenges bringing additional personnel on duty. All of that is being looked at, and will be managed across the system going forward.”

Justice was asked whether he might consider early release of some non-violent inmates amid COVID issues.

“I will never say never, but I have to have a lot more information,” Justice said. “We probably need to do a lot more research, and dig a lot more deeper and then I’ll get back to you.”

Hoyer said West Virginia Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sandy and Commissioner of Corrections Betsy Jividen are working on options to address outbreaks within prison facilities, and will soon bring these to the governor.

Hoyer also reported 312 courses of omicron antibody treatments were received by the state this week, and “are expected to go quickly.”

Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reversed its authorization for two monoclonal antibody treatments – bamlanivimab and etesevimab (administered together) and REGEN-COV (casirivimab and imdevimab).

Marsh explained that while the antibodies were effective in treating earlier forms of COVID such as the delta variant, the same antibody treatment was not effective against omicron. Since Omicron is now the dominant form of the COVID virus, the two earlier treatments were pulled, he said.

Conversely, newer forms of antibody treatments for omicron would not be effective against older strains of COVID, Marsh explained.

In the future, if patients in certain geographic regions are likely to be infected or exposed to a variant that is susceptible to these treatments, then use of these treatments may be authorized in these regions, according to the FDA.

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