Gov. Jim Justice and health experts urged West Virginians not to let down their guard as warnings grow more dire about the next few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Masks equal vaccine,” Justice emphasized at the end of a Friday briefing.
The governor was referring to comments made by Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus response coordinator.
“Wearing a mask and physically distancing six feet or more from other people — if everybody does it, it is equivalent to having a vaccine today,” Marsh said.
“It is equivalent to having a vaccine today and we’re not doing it at the level we need to.”
Those remarks came as Justice had talked about the likelihood of West Virginians letting down their guard with the pandemic now lasting more than half a year.
“This terrible killer is still with us. It’s spreading across our land. West Virginia is not exempt,” Justice said.
The nation has reported significant spread of the virus recently with hospitalizations up by 40 percent in the past month. More than 41,000 people are currently hospitalized from covid in the United States.
On Thursday, more than 75,000 cases of the coronavirus were announced in the United States. That’s the second-highest daily total nationwide since the pandemic began.
Eight states set single-day case records, and 13 states have added more cases in the past week than in any other seven-day stretch.
Marsh warned of a very difficult six to 12 weeks straight ahead.
“This is a time when we are seeing covid starting to spread much more easily,” he said.
Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Marsh said many cases now are being spread by people who have gatherings of extended family or friends while dropping their guard.
But by wearing masks and maintaining distance, he said, West Virginians could keep numbers down.
“We are not subject only to a fate that is not under our control,” Marsh said, “but in fact we have power and control over what our future looks like.”
On Friday, West Virginia reported 193 covid-related hospitalizations, which was the highest number recorded so far.
There were 335 new cases reported in West Virginia over the prior 24 hours, Justice reported, “and that’s a lot.”
West Virginia registered a virus reproductive rate of 1.04. If it’s above 1.0, COVID-19 will spread quickly. If it’s below 1.0, infections will slow.
“We’ve got to be double, triple and absolutely looking after one another,” Justice said.