CHARLESTON — Many sectors of the workforce have been hit hard by the pandemic, but none harder than the health care sector.
Gov. Jim Justice announced a program with three state institutions to train 2,000 new nurses over the next four years. The state is investing $48 million in CARES Act dollars to expand and create nursing programs at Concord University, BridgeValley Community & Technical College and Glenville State University.
Last year, 1,700 nurses in West Virginia did not renew their licenses. Sixty-eight percent of those said they didn’t renew due to the workload COVID has brought to the profession, according to Justice.
This program will “aggressively recruit... staff and train” nurses in West Virginia and hopefully cause some of those graduates to remain in the state.
“This [program] will not only give us the boost and assurance we need in West Virginia, but it could very well set an example... across our country,” Justice said. “We know we have an incredible shortage of nurses in West Virginia. ... This $48 million will renew and renew within our state.”
The plan brings government and academic organizations together to “pull the rope in the same direction” to meet the growing need in health care the state is seeing. The three partner schools will be teaming with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services and other state organizations to meet the training goal.
Cynthia Persily, senior director of health sciences with the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, joined the governor to make the announcement.
“I think it’s always been true, but I think it’s been especially true over the last two years that nurses are the heart of our health care system,” Persily said. “Their work and dedication are invaluable. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the shortages we have in West Virginia.”
State COVID numbers
Before the good news, Justice opened the briefing as usual by reading the COVID deaths since his last conference. Tuesday, he read the names of 69 residents, bringing West Virginia’s death toll to 5,211.
“I don’t know how anyone in the world can just go about thinking this is business as usual,” Justice said. “We must get vaccinated.”
West Virginia now has 8,598 active cases of COVID, with 820 new cases since the last update. The worrying statistic is the rising number of cases that are resulting in hospitalization.
Currently, there are 605 cases in the state that are hospitalized, 208 of which are in intensive care, with 114 on ventilators.
Numbers began to fall throughout November, but have begun to rise again, likely due to the more contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant. Clay Marsh, the state’s COVID czar, said the new variant’s infection rate is similar that of the measles.
“We have seen the Omicron variant become the most infectious respiratory disease on this planet,” Marsh said. “This virus now is acting like the measles virus does in unvaccinated populations. It took the Delta variant about three months to become the dominant strain... it’s taken three weeks for Omicron to take over.”
The advice from Marsh, Justice and the rest of the governor’s COVID task force is to continue social distancing, wear a mask in crowds and get fully vaccinated against the virus.
Jim Hoyer, director of the joint inter-agency task force, continues to encourage West Virginians to get vaccinated and boosted, especially those over age 50.
“The best and most available treatment that we have [against COVID] is to get fully vaccinated to include the booster dose,” Hoyer said. “This is particularly important with the variant we have coming.”
Currently there are only three known cases of the Omicron variant in West Virginia, but there is no quick way to confirm what variant caused an infection and all border states are seeing large increases in numbers. Marsh said, “It’s only a matter of time.”
Since the start of December, Marion County has had 465 confirmed cases and 14 deaths from COVID-19.
County officials continue to encourage vaccination, citing it as the number one protection against hospitalization due to COVID. Marion County currently sits at 59 percent of residents vaccinated.
The Marion County Health Department offers vaccinations by appointment and can be scheduled by visiting their website at www.marionlhdwv.org and clicking the first link under “COVID-19 Resources.”