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As covid-19 numbers persist, variant adds an additional worry for West Virginia health leaders

West Virginia officials issued urgent warnings about the state’s persistent covid-19 numbers today as a new variant adds an additional worry.

Dr. Clay Marsh

“Covid remains very active and it is ultimately important for us to make sure we are vaccinating our population fully or boosting our population that is eligible,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s top covid-19 response adviser.

One of the concerns is that West Virginia’s covid-19 numbers appear to have plateaued, rather than a full drop, following a surge a few weeks ago.

West Virginia reported 5,800 active cases of covid-19 today, down somewhat from recent days.

The state reported 561 covid-19 patients in the hospital, which is up. There were also 181 covid-19 patients in the intensive care unit and 96 who need ventilators to breathe.

West Virginia needs to be careful to not overwhelm the hospital system in the coming weeks, Marsh said.

“Our hospital capacity is very constrained,” he said.

West Virginia figures show 55 percent of the vaccine-eligible population, ages 5 and above, as fully-vaccinated.

The seven-day average of vaccinations has been generally going down. On Monday, the seven-day average was 761. The prior Monday, Nov. 22, that number was 1,591.

State leaders have been urging residents not only to get vaccinated, but — if they were vaccinated six months ago or more — to seek out a booster shot.

James Hoyer

Jim Hoyer, who leads West Virginia’s interagency task force, said 222,000 booster doses have been administered to state residents. But he said the booster distribution is still not occurring not fast enough.

“It is nowhere close to where we, West Virginia, need to be going into the winter months and with this new variant coming forward,” Hoyer said. “So West Virginians, particularly over age 50, we have got to get booster doses. We have got to get booster doses quickly,” Hoyer said.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention on Monday made a significant adjustment to its advice, recommending that all adults get a covid-19 booster shot. Before, the CDC had simply said adults may get a booster.

State officials, including Governor Justice, have been expressing urgency for weeks because West Virginia covid-19 statistics have plateaued, holiday gatherings would provide opportunities for the virus to spread and cold weather would cause people to stay indoors more.

“This surge we’re in right now is not cleaning up the hospitals. It’s still overloading the hospitals,” Justice said today. “The $64 question to ask yourself is what’s going to happen. What’s going to happen when winter comes? What’s going to happen when cold weather comes?”

Now the recently-identified omicron variant adds a new factor to that urgency.

Joe Biden

“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” President Joe Biden said in a briefing Monday about omicron. “We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists and we’re learning more every single day — and we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion.”

The best protection is vaccination, Biden said.

“I know you’re tired of hearing me say this: The best protection against this variant or any of the variants out there is getting vaccinated or getting a booster shot,” he said. “Most Americans are fully vaccinated but not yet boosted.”

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