West Virginia racing towards COVID vaccinations for older residents

CHARLESTON — While there are no plans to move older members of West Virginia’s general population up in the order of COVID-19 vaccinations, state officials said Monday that they are moving quickly to get to those seniors.

Gov. Jim Justice and state coronavirus response officials briefed the press Monday at the State Capitol Building about the latest COVID-19 data and the vaccination effort in the state.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, of the 60,875 doses received as of Monday of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, 30,373 vaccinations have been administered. Another shipment of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines Monday and today will add another 25,000 doses to the state’s total.

Vaccine distribution to the state’s 214 long-term care facilities was supposed to be wrapped up by the end of Monday nearly two weeks after the first vaccine doses were received. All of West Virginia’s hospitals and county health departments had their vaccine doses for frontline healthcare workers last week. According to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, West Virginia and Maine are tied for the lead in vaccine distribution, with 1.7 percent of residents vaccinated already.

West Virginia was one of the first states to start vaccinating, focusing on healthcare workers, long-term care residents and staff, community infrastructure, emergency response and law enforcement. The second half of phase one will focus on home health providers and other healthcare workers, as well as K-12 teachers and staff.

State officials have been clear that the focus for phase one vaccinations has been on people age 50 and older, with doses going to younger people when available. Phase two of vaccine distribution with focus on the general population, especially those older than 60 and working backwards with the oldest members of the state population being prioritized.

Yet, some states are starting to move older members of the general population further up in priority. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations last week calling for people age 75 or older to be vaccinated along with frontline healthcare workers, teachers, and essential employees. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida, have moved seniors up in priority as a result.

When asked whether West Virginia would follow suit based on the CDC’s recommendations, Justice did not say. But Justice said age is a major priority for the state, considering that 77 percent of deaths in West Virginia have been people older than 70. Justice said the quicker the state can get through phase one of the vaccination plan, the quicker the state can get to the older members of the general population by mid-March if not sooner.

“It is the number one thing we’re trying to do,” Justice said. “We are working that … as diligently as we possibly can to be able to achieve just that.”

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard and a leader of the West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force for Vaccinations, said while vaccination is occurring for people in phase one, the infrastructure is being created — with the help of pharmacies, regional clinics, and other healthcare facilities — to be able to get the vaccine administered to the older general population in phase two.

“What we’ve done is taken the four priorities the Governor gave us, plus the overarching strategic focus of age and we’re basically balancing,” Hoyer said. “We know from the state’s data that both our deaths and our hospitalizations, if we can address those aged populations, we will have a significant impact.”

According to data from the Department of Health and Human Resources, the total numbers of test results over a 14-day period between Dec. 14 and Dec. 27 was 137,463 — a 27 percent decrease in testing compared to 188,573 tests results between Nov. 30. through Dec. 13. Over the last seven days, the state conducted an average of 8,750 tests per day, down from 10,888 tests per day the previous week.

The number of positive cases over the same 14-day period was 16,840, which was a 0.2 percent increase compared to 16,807 cases during the prior 14-day period. As of Monday — the most recent data available — the state reported 726 new cases received in a 24-hour period compared to Sunday’s data. The state averaged 1,132 cases per day over a seven-day period, up from 1,274 cases the previous seven days.

Active COVID-19 cases — the number of infected people in self-quarantine or hospitalized — was 24,273 cases as of Monday — a 6-percent increase from 22,877 active cases seven days ago and a 15-percent increase from 21,076 active cases 14 days ago. All 55 counties have active cases for the 10th week in a row. Active cases have increased in 37 out of 55 counties counties, up slightly from 36 counties last week.

The state reported 1,263 total COVID-19 deaths as of Monday. There were 286 deaths reported between Dec. 14 and Dec. 27 — a 20 percent increase over the 239 deaths reported the previous 14 days. Over a seven-day period, the state saw an average of 18 deaths per day.

There were 720 hospitalizations as of Monday, up from 695 hospitalizations the previous week — a 4 percent increase. The average number of hospitalizations between Dec. 14 and Dec. 27 increased by 12 percent over the average number of hospitalizations the previous 14 days. The number of infected people in intensive care units was 200 — up from 167 last week — and 91 people are on ventilators — up from 71 people last week.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the percent of inpatient hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients was 14.88 percent as of Dec. 15. Out of an estimated 782 ICU beds in the state, 502 beds — or 81.29 percent of the state’s ICU capacity is being used.

The daily percent of positive COVID-19 cases in West Virginia was 16.29 percent Monday, breaking all previous daily positivity records since the start of the pandemic in the state. The cumulative percent of positive cases was 4.66 percent.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com


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