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COVID-19 ICU numbers hit record mark in West Virginia

Gov. Jim Justice discusses the need for COVID-19 vaccinations. (File Photo)

CHARLESTON — The number of patients in intensive care units due to COVID has hit a record in West Virginia, as has the number of patients on ventilators.

There were 252 COVID patients in ICUs at West Virginia’s hospitals as of Wednesday morning — a number surpassing that posted during the peak of the last COVID surge in early January, Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday. Also setting a record is the number of patients on ventilators, which was at 132 as of Wednesday morning.

Justice announced another 21 COVID-related deaths since Monday, bringing the state’s total to 3,169. The daily rate of tests coming back positive was 17.96 percent, he said. West Virginia also leads the nation in the acceleration rate of new cases, with 2.69 cases per 100,000 people per week per day, according to the health news website, statnews.com.

There are 68 incidents of COVID outbreaks within 31 West Virginia schools. Ten individual schools and the entire Clay County School District are closed due to COVID, according to Justice.

Twenty-nine of West Virginia’s 55 county school districts have issued mask mandates for students and staff.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s COVID-19 czar, compared the spread of the more-contagious delta variant to a forest fire that starts in a few places.

“After a while, if you have enough dry timber and not enough firewalls, it can consume more of the forest at risk and cause a raging fire” he explained. “That is what I believe we are experiencing right now in West Virginia.”

And Marsh said nothing works better as a firewall against COVID than vaccinations.

State officials on Wednesday did report an uptick in the number of COVID vaccinations in the state. Since Friday, 11,000 in West Virginia have been vaccinated. Marsh acknowledged vaccinations won’t reverse the current COVID surge in the state, but he said they will prove helpful going forward.

He predicts the current surge won’t peak for another 10 to 14 days, and there will still be COVID-related sickness happening for at least two weeks after that time.

James Hoyer, director of West Virginia’s Joint Interagency Task Force, reported that 83% of those being hospitalized have not been vaccinated against COVID. He said 90% of those in the ICU aren’t vaccinated, and 92% of those on ventilators haven’t been inoculated.

Justice was asked if he feared political reprisal if he were to issue a statewide mask mandate.

“I’m not going to be afraid of anybody. I am going to try with all in me to make the best decision for everybody,” he said. “It’s not that I’m opposed to a mask mandate. I’m opposed to mandates. But in this, I’m trying to keep us all together.

“I know the very second we start to fragment… we’ll get worse. We won’t get better; it’ll get worse.”

He admitted pandemic concerns are giving him stress.

“It’s hard to sleep when you’re worried about everybody, you’re worried about what’s going on, and you’re worried about the hardheadedness of people refusing to take the vaccines,” he said.

Justice said he will seek to make the best decisions for everybody.

“I’m not concerned about somebody throwing a rock at me. I’m concerned about people throwing rocks at all of us and hurting all West Virginians,” he said.

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