As the viral transmission rate for COVID-19 begins to climb, temperatures get colder and families gather for Thanksgiving, officials in West Virginia are desperately trying to encourage residents to get vaccinated and get booster shots.
“I don’t know what else to do but stand in front of you over and over and go through this state and use tools like robocalls or whatever the idea is,” Governor Jim Justice said at a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday .
According to the State Department of Health and Human Resources, there were 6,754 active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia on Tuesday. The number of active cases has remained relatively stable in November, with an average daily number of cases of 23 days of 6,687.
The County Alert System shows 16 counties in red for infection rates and virus positivity percentage, but 25 counties fall in the second worst category of orange, meaning the level of virus spread could increase. Pleasants, Gilmer, Lewis and Tucker counties are in green, the lowest category for virus spread.
Hospital admissions for COVID-19 have remained below 500 since last week, with 512 hospitalizations as of Wednesday. Confirmed COVID cases in the state’s intensive care units rose slightly from 171 this time last week to 183. Severe cases requiring ventilators also rose from 87 last week to 104 as of Wednesday.
“At the end of the first spike, we had a near-complete emptying of our hospital system of COVID patients. That is not the case during this wave,” said James Hoyer, leader of the state’s joint task force on COVID-19 and vaccines. “A much larger percentage of those individuals are in the ICU and on ventilators.”
Hoyer said the transmission rate of the virus has risen to 1.04. Any rate greater than 1 means the virus is multiplying and spreading faster.
“Unfortunately, our transmission rate continues to increase,” Hoyer said. “It has been steadily rising over the past ten days. We know from past experience and our data analysis that this will lead to additional challenges.”
The state reported 47 additional deaths since the last update, bringing the death toll from COVID-19 in West Virginia to 4,817. The oldest were 95 – men from Jackson and Taylor counties and a woman from Kanawha County. The youngest was a 38-year-old woman from Kanawha County. The state has lost 92 residents to COVID since Justice’s Friday briefing.
“I know you’re tired of hearing me say this, but the only way we can stop this, as we know today, is to get you vaccinated,” Justice said. “It’s the only way. Especially up here, you can’t think this is acceptable. I don’t know how on earth you can bear me reading 92 names.”
As of Wednesday, 63.4% of eligible West Virginians ages 5 and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine since Pfizer’s vaccine was approved for children ages 5-11 in early November. With three weeks between the first and second dose, children in that age group are only now eligible for the second dose.
The state is approaching the year since the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved in December 2020. Since then, 73.8% of adults over the age of 50 have been fully vaccinated, representing more than 736,000 West Virginians. That percentage rises to 82.7% for adults over 65.
However, those rates get worse for West Virginians under age 50. Only 54.3% of residents aged 41-50 are fully vaccinated, followed by 47.8% of residents aged 31-40, 40.1% of residents aged 26-30 , 43.2% of residents ages 21-25, 42.4% of residents ages 16-20, and 31.3% of children ages 12-15. The state’s seven-day vaccine average remains between 5,000 and 6,000 doses, with the most recent seven-day average at 5,011.
March 2022 will mark the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic in West Virginia and the then-declared state of emergency. Despite lamenting those who refuse to get vaccinated, Justice pointed to his live-streamed COVID-19 briefings, the work of state health officials getting older and at-risk residents vaccinated, and the multiple vaccine-boosting lotteries as proof of success.
“I bet we’re approaching the 300,000 people we’ve touched in West Virginia — somewhere in the neighborhood of 17% of the entire population — who’ve been vaccinated with at least one shot since we started,” Justice said. “We win people over, that’s all… how many of them have we saved their lives?”