Two weeks ago, West Virginia Covid-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh warned that a newer and potentially more dangerous variant of the virus would soon arrive here. “We’re approaching a yellow light,” Marsh said on June 16. “A yellow light is the risk of a new variant coming to West Virginia.”
And Marsh was right.
The State Department of Health and Human Resources this week reported the first cases in West Virginia of the delta variant. Currently there 12 cases of B16172 in five counties—five in Monongalia, four in Berkeley and one each in Hampshire, Marion and McDowell.
The Centers for Disease Control has stepped up warnings about delta. “It is classified as a VOC (variant of concern) because it spreads from person to person more easily than other variants and may cause more severe disease,” the CDC said.
The delta variant first turned up in India. It has now spread to at least 80 countries. The CDC reports delta now accounts for one in five new infections in this country, but it may soon become the dominant strain.
The Washington Post reported, “The rapid spread of the delta coronavirus variant has forced a growing number of countries to reimpose lockdowns and other public health restrictions, raising fears that the more contagious variant was hampering global efforts to contain the pandemic.”
Governor Jim Justice issued a warning for West Virginia during his Tuesday briefing. “That delta variant is one that is scaring us to death,” Justice said.
State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad was more measured than the Governor, but she is still worried. “Our concern is like the rest of the country where you’re seeing the spread of the delta variant.”
Both Justice and Amjad said the best way to tamp down the spread of the new variant is to get vaccinated. “We need to remind everyone to get fully vaccinated in West Virginia,” Amjad said.
However, that is a problem because vaccination levels have dropped off significantly, and only about half of the state’s population age 12 and older—53 percent—is fully vaccinated. Justice’s campaign to award people cash and prizes for getting vaccinated does not appear to have made much of an impact.
That leaves a huge portion of our state’s residents who are at greater risk of becoming infected.
Additionally, fewer people are being tested. As many as 10,000 individuals were being tested each day a month ago. That number has dropped to about 3,000. Fewer tests mean it may be more difficult to catch the delta variant before it spreads.
West Virginians, like so many across the country, have largely put Covid behind them. They are done with masks, social distancing, travel restrictions and everything else associated with the pandemic.
Who can blame them? The vaccines are working, and fewer people are becoming infected. However, the virus keeps mutating to survive. Each mutation creates a new and different threat.
More West Virginians need to heed the repeated requests of the Governor and his top health officials to get vaccinated. Otherwise, the delta variant could cause us to lose ground that we have worked so hard to gain.