Greenbrier County’s health department has issued an indoor mask mandate, effective immediately.
The order comes as covid-19 cases and hospitalizations continue at record levels around the state. Gov. Jim Justice, who ordered a statewide mask mandate last year, for weeks now has said such decisions need to be made at the local level.
“Greenbrier County health workers and facilities have become overwhelmed with the rise in covid cases in recent weeks and we feel it is our duty to respond,” stated Dr. Drema Hill, vice chairwoman of the Greenbrier County Board of Health.
Any individual in the county, regardless of vaccination status, is required to wear a mask or face covering over their mouth and nose while inside any building open to the public. There are exceptions for children under the age of 2, people who have trouble breathing for a documented medical reason and anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
The statement was issued in collaboration with Greenbrier County commissioners, who under state law have 30 days to review the mandate.
“The other members of the county commission and I take our responsibility of protecting the residents of Greenbrier County very seriously,” stated Greenbrier County Commission President Lowell Rose.
Greenbrier County Commissioner Tammy Tincher added, “We value the opinion and work of the Greenbrier County Board of Health, and look forward to working together as we review the mask mandate.”
The county’s action comes as state figures continue to skyrocket.
West Virginia reported 57 covid-related deaths over the past couple of days, now part of the total of 3,370 over the course of the pandemic.
Justice continued to urge West Virginians to get vaccinated, but again expressed fears that many aren’t listening.
“We’re going to run to the fire and get vaccinated right now or we’re going to pile the body bags up,” he said today.
Of West Virginia’s vaccine-eligible population, 60 percent are considered fully vaccinated. The most recent 7-day average for vaccinations was 1,429, about in line with a rate that has been flat for weeks.
Asked again today by WCHS-TV reporter Bob Aaron if the state should consider a universal mask mandate, who cited West Virginia’s highest number of covid cases per 100,000 over any other state in the country. Justice still said no.
“As far as how I feel right now, again it’s a balancing act to be able to keep us all moving in the right direction and keep us together. From the standpoint of the masks, the masks are not the answer; the answer is the vaccination. That’s the answer period. And there’s no point in going any further. That’s just all there is to it,” Justice said.
The governor did not address whether masks might be part of an answer — one tool among several that could slow down the current delta surge and reduce stress on medical facilities.
At the start of this month, the West Virginia Osteopathic Medical Association called on the governor to provide “clear leadership,” particularly a statewide mask mandate. The organization said face coverings are one way to suppress cases to try to avert an overload of hospitals, along with vaccinations and social distancing.
West Virginia today passed its previous pandemic record with 29,744 active cases of covid-19.
Daily hospitalizations from covid-19 were at 922, hitting a new high every day now. Of those, 82.4 percent are unvaccinated.
The state lists 277 covid patients who require the intensive care unit, another category where the state breaks its own record every day. Of those patients, 91 percent are unvaccinated.
And 169 patients are so sick they require a ventilator to breathe. The state breaks that record every day too. Of the total, 91.7 percent are unvaccinated.
“I’m going to continue to tell you to get vaccinated because I don’t know what else to do,” the governor said at today’s briefing.
Monoclonal antibody treatment
State leaders announced greater access for monoclonal antibody treatment. There are now 30 additional access points, including pharmacies and local health departments.
“The antibodies are not a replacement for the vaccine, but they are a life-saving tool, particularly if we get to an individual at the appropriate time,” said James Hoyer, leader of West Virginia’s interagency task force.
The goal of the therapy is to help prevent hospitalizations, reduce viral loads and lessen symptom severity. The monoclonal antibodies are mass-produced in a laboratory and are designed to recognize the virus’s spike protein on its outer shell. The antibodies interfere with the virus’s ability to attach and gain entry to human cells. This buys the body time to mount its own fight against the virus.
Kanawha County health officer Sherri Young and Kanawha County Commission President Sherri Young appeared at today’s state briefing to promote increased access to the monoclonal antibody treatment.
“While monoclonal antibodies do have their place it does not take away from the importance of getting that vaccine,” Young said.
An advisory panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted to recommend Pfizer’s third dose for people 65 and over and for those with compromised immunity.
The panel, in a separate vote, did not recommend booster doses for ages 16 and over.
Justice has been talking for weeks about needing federal approval for third shots. Today’s statewide briefing came prior to the FDA panel’s vote, but the governor said West Virginia would be prepared to act.
“As soon as the FDA says go on the booster shots — and we’re watching it like crazy — and if they came out of that meeting with a decision on booster shots we’d be ready to go today,” Justice said at the statewide briefing.