ERs, Hospitals in West Virginia are Straining to Keep Up

I went to the emergency room of WVU Medicine in Morgantown Wednesday night.  The expansive waiting room was filled with sick people. The wait was going to be hours.

This is not a criticism of the hospital; it is a first-hand account of what is happening at hospitals across the state and in many parts of the country—they are crushed. The ER is often the first point of contact for the sick, and if necessary, they are then admitted.

And in West Virginia, admissions are rising again. According to DHHR figures Thursday, the number of Covid hospitalizations alone has reached 758, up from just over 500 two months ago.

Meanwhile hospitals are handling their normal load of heart disease, cancer, stroke, broken bones, and every other malady that brings people in for care.

Dr. Adam Crawford, medical director for Charleston Area Medical Center’s emergency department, said on Talkline Thursday that the fast spreading omicron variant is one of the contributors to the increase.

“Obviously the new variant is presenting new challenges because going into this variant, we’re full,” Crawford said. “I think that’s been the biggest difference… we’re a hospital and health care system that’s at capacity and taking on more is a strain.”

But strain they must, at CAMC and every other hospital and clinic in the state, because of the demand.

Meanwhile, West Virginia is becoming even more bifurcated on vaccinations. As our Brad McElhinny reported, “Of vaccine-eligible West Virginians, ages 5 and above, only 54 percent are considered fully vaccinated. That’s in the bottom third of states.” Of those vaccinated, just 38 percent have received the booster shot.

But even as health officials struggle to get more West Virginians fully vaccinated, Governor Justice is floating the idea of a second booster.

State Covid-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said Thursday that yet another shot may be needed for the state’s older population.

“We vaccinated our most vulnerable population first, and we know that lag time now is the longest for them,” Marsh said during Thursday’s briefing. “We are very quickly approaching the four-month window when we know the potency of those vaccines are wearing off.”

Israel is already administering a fourth dose to their older population and a preliminary study shows it is highly effective. The study by Israel’s Sheba Medical Center found the fourth dose caused a five-fold increase in antibodies that fight the virus.

No, the vaccine is no guarantee against Covid, but DHHR figures show that since the vaccine was first made available in the state, the fully vaccinated account for only 12 percent of total cases and 11 percent of the deaths. Just five percent of the total breakthrough deaths (451) are individuals who were fully vaccinated.

The vaccine, booster shots, masks, regular hand washing, and avoidance of large crowds remain the most effective ways to avoid infection. But our lagging vaccination rate and the emergence of the omicron variant guarantees that West Virginians’ wait at the ER will be a long one.

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