West Virginia leads nation in covid acceleration, straining hospitals

West Virginia is blowing past the rest of the nation for how quickly the number of covid cases are accelerating, and hospitals are feeling the strain.

Emory Parker

“Cases in West Virginia are speeding up faster than they ever have, and they’re speeding up faster than anywhere else in the country,” said Emory Parker, the data project manager at STAT, a national media company that investigates and reports on health, medicine and life sciences.

Parker examined how quickly covid cases are rising in each state, differentiated from overall caseload. This focused on how fast covid is spreading.

Right now, West Virginia leads the nation in that acceleration of new cases with 2.69 cases per 100,000 people per week per day.

The state’s rate of new covid cases is higher than South Dakota (1.68) , North Dakota 1.53), Ohio (1.46), Wyoming (1.34) and all the others.

“What we’re seeing now is, it’s just skyrocketing,” Parker said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

West Virginia recorded 21,752 active cases of covid-19 through today. A month ago, August 7, the state recorded 3,832 cases.

Fueled by the delta variant, West Virginia hospitalizations have risen to numbers that rival or exceed the worst of the pandemic.

Dr. Clay Marsh

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s covid-19 response adviser, took note of the acceleration statistics and publicly agreed that they are a sign of trouble.

“Yes, case acceleration tells us that the Delta variant is now growing maximally in West Virginia,” Marsh wrote on Twitter.

“This pattern follows Delta everywhere it spreads — dynamic spread in networks given high infectibility. Maximum hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators after this phase in other places.”

The rapid acceleration means West Virginia is quickly straining hospital capacity, suggested Parker, who compiled the data.

“I would really expect the strain on West Virginia’s healthcare system to be equal to or greater than what it was in West Virginia because of this number,” Parker said.

Hospitalizations from covid today reached 756, which is getting close to the pandemic’s all-time high in the state.

The state recorded 247 covid patients needing admission to intensive care units. The previous high was 219 in early January.

And the state recorded 132 cases so serious that ventilators are required. Each day now West Virginia goes even farther beyond an earlier high of 104 from early January.

Albert Wright
Albert Wright

The current covid surge in West Virginia has become so severe that hospitals are carefully assessing their resources, said Albert Wright, president and chief executive of WVU Medicine.

“Things are trending in the wrong direction. We are increasingly challenged as an organization,” Wright said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

He added, “You start to look at your resource scarcity protocols and you try to reallocate resources to help as many patients as possible and those people you can make the most good on.”

Wright said two major challenges are staffing shortages and demand for critical care beds. Ruby Memorial in Morgantown moved to a “crisis model” last weekend. Wright said that happens “when care demand is higher than your capacity to care for those folks.”

“We’re full at both our adult and children’s hospital in managing critical care patients around the state that are trying to get in here but we just don’t have the capacity for them,” Wright said. “So we’re trying to manage them remotely at smaller hospitals around the state, which is not an ideal situation but the situation we’re facing right now.”

That is working adequately for now, Wright said, but it could be a major challenge to keep up. He said hospitals may have to call back workers who had been out on their covid precautions because of exposures, having them work in appropriate personal protective equipment to care for patients.

Other resources may be reallocated too, he said. Wright made reference to an Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model that suggests a peak is still weeks away.

“So if we’re overwhelmed at this point or approaching the state where we’re overwhelmed we’re not out of this yet. We’re still on the upward surge trend. So you have to start to look and say how many folks can you take care of, who is most likely to do well in those situations.

“That’s when you start to have those resource scarcity conversations.”

Another resource in question is the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machines that work to oxygenate blood outside the body for patients struggling to breathe. Such machines have become crucial in buying time for the most severe cases of covid patients to heal, but shortages are being reported in hard-hit states.

Wright said cooperation with the state has led to an increase of available ECMO machines from six up to eight. But issues are arising not just with the number of machines available, Wright said, but with the staffing with expertise to operate them.

“These are folks that are highly-trained, not only physicians but caregivers, and to ramp that up in a quick fashion is not something that’s easy to do,” Wright said.

“So there’s kind of a limited capacity just in intensive care nursing. You can’t pull nurses that don’t know how to take care of sick and critically ill patients and all of a sudden move them into that type of a setting.”

Jim Kaufman

Across the state, hospitals are managing their strained resources by working together, said Jim Kaufman, president of the West Virginia Hospital Association. Hospitals are also rescheduling elective procedures or canceling procedures that require an overnight stay, he said.

“We need everyone to get vaccinated since we know the vast majority of those hospitalized are unvaccinated,” Kaufman said.

“We also need everyone to work with their primary care provider for care. We do not want anyone thinking they are having a heart attack and not to come to the emergency room thinking its only for COVID patients.”

Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice has continued to urge vaccinations. But during a Monday briefing about the pandemic’s response, the governor said he believes more serious challenges are straight ahead.

“One of two things is going to happen. We’ve going to reach the peak and it’s going to start down really soon. Or what’s apt to happen is, it’s going to get colder and as it gets colder and we’re going to get more in confined areas and it’s going to get worse,” Justice said.

“I personally believe we’ve got more bad days in front of us than good right now.”

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