Governor Justice

Tuesday, Jim Justice read off 37 more names of West Virginians whose deaths relate to COVID-19. The state’s death count now sits at 5,288.

CHARLESTON — In the last five days, West Virginia suffered 37 COVID-related deaths, one of which was a 54-year-old from Marion County.

The 37 deaths bring the state’s COVID-19 death toll up to 5,288 deaths. In Gov. Jim Justice’s previous briefing on Dec. 23, 40 deaths were tallied. Justices chalked this spike up to the Omicron variant, holiday travel and lack of testing.

“This Omicron variant is surely sweeping across this land. We haven’t seen it much in West Virginia, but we have seen 5,288 deaths— just way too many,” Justice said. “You’ve got to absolutely hear me when I say you’ve got to be vaccinated so badly. Without any question you need to have the booster shot.”

The state currently has 8,604 active cases and 1,053 new cases since the last update. More than half the counties in the state are in the red on the Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVID map, including Marion County.

Justice praised the work of the vaccination effort, which has resulted in 61 percent of the eligible state population receiving at least one dose and 51 percent being fully vaccinated.

Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s COVID czar, warned of low vaccination rates in the younger age ranges, specifically school-age children.

“This is a really important time, not only for our elder West Virginians to be fully vaccinated and boosted ... but also for our children,” Marsh said. “When we look at our vaccination rates for our children, we see that to be our lowest vaccination rate. That’s something all parents should become acutely aware of.”

Children between the ages of 5 and 11 have the lowest rate of vaccination in West Virginia at just 13 percent of those eligible. Marion County is ahead of the statewide percentage with 16 percent of that age group vaccinated. However, this range is the most recent to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

While it’s been shown that COVID-19 is less serious in children, Marsh reports an increase in the percentage of deaths of kids and young adults.

“It’s clear now due to the vaccine uptake that we have seen a smaller share of the deaths from older West Virginian’s,” Marsh said. “Now we see those in that 45 to 55 [age] range and in that 25 to 45 range to have more of a relative percent of deaths related to COVID-19.

“This is a completely preventable and treatable issue if people get fully vaccinated and boosted. It really does demonstrate the benefit of full vaccination and boosting.”

The people within that 20- to 45-year-old age range have proven to be some of the hardest to reach. Justice made it clear that he and his team will not give up in their vaccination efforts.

“All the effort we’ve put into this thing ... we just kept digging, didn’t we? That’s what West Virginians do,” Justice said. “Working— that’s what we’ll continue to do because every single one of these people we get across the finish line may very well be a life we save.”

Jim Hoyer, director of the joint-interagency task force, echoed the governor’s sentiment.

“We’ve pressed so hard to get our older population vaccinated and we’ve seen a significant drop in the average age of death [from COVID] in our state,” Hoyer said. “Continue to press your friends, your neighbors, your relatives. The best thing we have to get passed this going forward is the vaccine.”

Marion County

Following residents returning home from holiday travel, Marion County has endured a spike in COVID cases that has sent the county back into the red on the DHHR’s state map.

“We saw a pretty good spike after the holidays and we anticipated that,” said Lloyd White, administrator of the Marion County Health Department. “I think we’re going to see a spike in the next two weeks following the Christmas and new year gatherings.”

In the last seven days, Marion County has had 184 cases and White is expecting more to roll in in the coming weeks.

He continues to asked residents who are eligible to get the vaccine, wear masks and be safe.

“I don’t understand why we are risking out lives when we can prevent it. We’ve got to continue to stress prevention,” White said. “It’s frustrating because we can prevent this stuff and people don’t have to lose their lives.”

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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