It may not be a white Christmas in West Virginia, but it is going to be a Covid Christmas.
No one wants to hear that, and just suggesting it will make some of you angry. You are sick of being told you might get sick, and that you should take the necessary precautions.
But weariness does not change the circumstances.
The omicron variant of Covid, which appears to spread more quickly than delta, is just arriving here, but state Covid-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh believes it will soon become the dominant variant.
“We are about to enter a whole new phase of Covid-19,” Marsh said on Talkline Tuesday. “That’s not good news for our hospital system. We’re going to see more people infected.”
The West Virginia Hospital Association issued an ominous warning on behalf of the state’s community hospitals.
“Projections show that for the 2021 holiday season, we will approach the highest number of Covid-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began,” the association said.
The latest DHHR numbers show 605 Covid hospitalizations. The number peaked at just over 1,000 in September, dropped to around 500 in November, but has been steadily creeping upward. The care required for the patients has stretched hospital services to the limit.
“Now after nearly two years, the system is near a breaking point as health care workers are mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted,” the association said. “Hospitals are operating at contingency and crisis levels of care, which means waiting times are longer and staffing shortages are now the norm, impacting the availability of timely care.”
Yes, West Virginians should still get vaccinated and get the booster, practice good hygiene and wear a mask in public areas. These are all measures proven to slow the spread of the virus. However, President Biden on Tuesday announced a pivot in the administration’s policy on the pandemic.
The federal government will make available 500 million rapid Covid tests that will be shipped free of charge to Americans who request them. Health experts believe improving testing will enable individuals to identify an infection in the early stages and help slow the spread.
Notably, neither the President nor West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is proposing a shutdown. They know that would be wildly unpopular and difficult to enforce. The goal now appears to be living with the virus in its various forms until the pandemic becomes endemic, where it will be more predictable and manageable.
Until then, we will be stuck with a Covid Christmas, and another year that will bring the same health warnings that we heard at the start of 2021.