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Covid surge can’t be halted now, officials say, and health cost will continue after peak

There’s no turning back from the current surge of covid-19, state officials said today, with detrimental health effects probably lingering even after the overall caseload has started to go down.

Dr. Clay Marsh

“The delta variant has entered that explosive growth phase,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus response adviser.

Fueled by the delta variant of covid-19, West Virginia today hit a positivity rate of 17.96 percent.

That number came from dividing a single day’s 1,357 positive tests by 7,554 total tests.

West Virginia now identifies 22,215 active cases overall.

A month ago, August 8, the state identified 4,010 cases.

Two months ago, July 8, there were just 999 cases.

Marsh likened the health situation to a brush fire that starts small and grows.

“That fire can start to consume more and more of the forest at risk and create one raging fire,” he said during a briefing today. “That’s what I believe we’re experiencing right now in West Virginia.”

Although he strongly recommended vaccination, Marsh said the surge that is underway now can’t be stopped.

“Vaccination won’t get us out of this surge right now. It has already started and it will needed to consume itself out,” he said.

Marsh estimated the surge could last from a few more days to a few more weeks. But even after the peak, he said, people’s health will pay a price.

“What happens in other places is that although the cases go over the peak, the perpetuation of people getting sick seems to be prolonged,” Marsh said, referring to hospitalizations and deaths.

The national Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects the greatest strain on West Virginia hospitals about Sept. 26. At that point 1,536 hospital beds could be needed for covid patients, the model anticipates.

The organization projects West Virginia’s peak number of daily deaths at about 31 on Sept. 28. But the model includes the possibility of a worse scenario of 56 deaths a day extending out to mid-October.

The model suggests those numbers could be held down, although not eliminated, with a universal mask mandate.

West Virginia has identified 3,169 covid-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, including 18 reported the past couple of days.

The state reported 818 covid-related hospitalizations today, just five short of the all-pandemic high. Of those, 677 or 83 percent are unvaccinated patients.

There were 252 covid patients in intensive care units, shooting past the high of 219 in early January. Of those, 228 or 90.5 percent are unvaccinated.

And 132 covid cases currently require a ventilator, far beyond the previous high of 104 in January. Of those, 121 or almost 92 percent are unvaccinated.

“Our hospitals are still overwhelmingly inundated with people who are not vaccinated,” Gov. Jim Justice said.

State officials continue to urge residents to get vaccinated, but say the pace has not been enough to head off the delta variant, which is more contagious than previous strains.

Of West Virginia’s eligible population, 59.2 percent is considered fully vaccinated. Higher age groups do better in West Virginia, with 80.6 percent of residents above age 65 considered fully vaccinated.

James Hoyer

With a surge already in full swing, current efforts at vaccination are unlikely to suppress it, said Jim Hoyer, leader of West Virginia’s interagency task force that coordinates the state pandemic response. But he said the vaccination effort should not let up because it could help prevent similar situations in the future.

“We will not get through this surge with those vaccination efforts, but we’ve got to be prepared for what comes next,” he said.

Dr. Chris Martin, public health professor at West Virginia University, today called vaccination “the cornerstone for finding our way out of this epidemic.”

Martin spoke on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“The vaccines very, very much work and it’s very important that as many people get vaccinated as possible to move forward,” Martin said.

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