September 22, 2021

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West Virginia suffers from the spread of Delta variants and delayed vaccinations

Coronavirus cases approaching record levels in West Virginia, and state schools are closing and its hospitals are choked with patients affected by the wickedly infectious delta variant.

Just seven months ago, when the Covid vaccine was still being rolled out, the state was a national leader. In late June, state governor Jim Justice, a Republican, had removed the statewide mask requirement.

But West Virginia has since lagged far behind and its pandemic status has deteriorated, a situation shared with other states with large unvaccinated populations. Just under 48 percent of West Virginia’s population 18 years of age or older is fully vaccinated, the lowest level in any state, according to federal data compiled by the New York Times.

President Biden tried to get the roughly 80 million eligible but unvaccinated people in the United States to get vaccinated when he announced Thursday that a scan plane that included vaccine requirements, he said, would cover an estimated 100 million workers. Americans.

Federally licensed Vaccines drastically reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, including the Delta variant, according to three studies published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The justice governor has been more outspoken about vaccinations than many other Republican governors.

“We can stop it, West Virginia, we can stop it,” Justice said at a press conference on Friday. “Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are not an invasion for anyone. “

Even though the judge regularly pleads with his constituents to get vaccinated, vaccination warrants are “something I absolutely don’t believe in,” he said. In a video that Mr. Justice tweeted on the same day, he suggested that Mr. Biden’s announcement of new vaccination warrants was a ploy to try to distract the public from the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan or the crushing of migrants at the southern border. .

The latest wave enveloped West Virginia with a ferocity the virus had never shown before, said coronavirus response official Dr. Clay Marsh.

“The rate of rapid growth and severity of the disease was indeed much higher than ever,” said Dr. Marsh.

The seven-day average of new cases reported in West Virginia nearly hit record highs for the entire month of September, surpassing 1,500 per day for most of last week, according to data compiled by the New York Times. The state recently passed a total of 200,000 cases, more than four times the population of Charleston, the capital and largest city.

Hospitalizations are approaching the state’s pandemic level, pushing its understaffed health centers to near capacity and a record number of Covid patients are being treated in intensive care units. Dr. Marsh said the state is reducing the number of elective procedures and taking steps to ensure hospitals are well staffed.

And while deaths average just 12 per day, that’s more than 41 percent of the state’s highest average for the pandemic, reached in January.

Last January, when the state faced the worst conditions it has ever seen, vaccine deployment in West Virginia was the envy of other states. But demand for the vaccine has plummeted, as in much of the country. Since then, Mr. Justice has turned to a number of incentive programs, including $ 100 Youth Savings Bonds and a vaccine competition where West Virginia can win cash, a scholarship, a sports car, or a pontoon boat. .

Major General Jim Hoyer, a retired National Guard officer who heads the inter-agency task force coordinating West Virginia’s vaccination efforts, said several approaches are needed.

“Someone said, ‘What’s the only thing that worked? Major General Hoyer said. “And there wasn’t a single thing that worked. There was a whole range of things.

The recent increase has spurred more vaccinations, Major General Hoyer said, but the pace has slowed slightly in recent days. Surveys have shown that fewer than 20 percent of state residents are categorically against vaccination, he said, and direct contact with health care workers has been an important way to reach hesitant people. .

Mr. Justice said that even with more vaccinated in West Virginia, there was no guarantee that the current wave was close to its peak.

“Maybe we won’t peak until Halloween or Thanksgiving, and in all of this, how many more will die, and die a horrible death, a death you can’t breathe?” Churches.

Sarah Cahalan and Mitch Smith contributed to the report.

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