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West Virginia COVID-19 cases continue drop; deaths remain high

CHARLESTON — West Virginia appears to be rounding a corner in COVID-19 cases with slight decreases in hospitalizations, though deaths remain high and vaccinations remain low compared to other states.

“It’s hard to sit here and say things are getting better, but you’ll see from our numbers that we have been in the eye of the storm,” said Gov. Jim Justice during his Monday coronavirus briefing from the State Capitol Building. “I do think that things are beginning to look a little better, but for crying out loud for these families and these loved ones things are pretty tough right now.”

According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, active COVID-19 cases in the state dropped by more than 9 percent since seven days ago, from 13,542 active cases last Monday to 12,284 active cases Sunday.

Hospitalizations due to severe COVID-19 infections also continued to drop slightly, from 977 hospitalizations last Monday to 915 hospitalizations Sunday. ICU beds usage for COVID-19 patients dropped from 292 to 269 during the same time period.

While many hospitals in the state remain on high alert, any slight drop in hospitalizations could help alleviate the strain on West Virginia’s healthcare system. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, total hospital utilization in the state dropped from 4,653 beds last week to 4,594 beds as of Monday.

ICU usage in the state dropped from 590 beds last week to 571 beds Monday, though 42.3 percent of ICU beds are being used for COVID-19 patients. According to DHHR, 82.8 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations are unvaccinated people, with 87.7 percent of COVID-19 ICU beds being used to treat the unvaccinated.

“Certainly, we know that hospitalization numbers are still high, although we have seen some positive trends,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar. “We also know that people continue to get very ill when they get infected with this variant of COVID-19, particularly those who are not vaccinated.”

State officials have said for the last two weeks they believe West Virginia is past the peak of what some call the delta wave, named for the COVID-19 variant that first ravaged India in the spring. After dropping to 882 active cases on July 9, active cases shot up to a peak of 29,744 on Sept. 16. Active cases between Sept. 16 and Sunday have dropped nearly 59 percent and represent the lowest number of cases since Aug. 25 after the delta wave began.

While active COVID-19 cases are on their way back down with hospitalizations beginning to follow suit, it could be another two weeks before COVID-19 deaths hit their peak during the state’s delta wave. According to DHHR, the state reported 47 deaths since the last update of the state’s coronavirus dashboard, bringing the state’s total death toll to 3,769.

One of the deaths reported Monday was a 21-year-old man from Braxton County and a 20-year-old man from Berkeley County.

“We get really used to hearing 88, 70, 73-years old … in this, we lost a 20-year-old,” Justice said. “This thing is reach across all of us and we better know that … Whether it’s a 20-year-old or a 104-year-old, we’ve lost wisdom and we’ve lost absolute opportunity.”

According to the New York Times COVID-19 data for all 50 states and territories, West Virginia ranks second behind Idaho for the daily average of deaths. West Virginia has a daily death average of 28.4 deaths, or 1.59 deaths per 100,000 people.

West Virginia also leads the nation with the lowest vaccination rate according to the New York Times. Justice said the state has now vaccinated 1,013,000 West Virginians. According to DHHR, 49.5 percent of West Virginia’s 1.79 million residents are fully vaccinated, with 56.9 percent of eligible West Virginians age 12 and older being fully vaccinated.

“Please get fully vaccinated so we can reduce the stress on our hospital systems,” Marsh said.

In other news, West Virginians have until midnight today to register for the final giveaway in phase II of the Do It For Babydog vaccinate incentive lottery. The final giveaways will be announced Friday. The lottery is open to all West Virginians who have at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Prizes include college scholarships, luxury sports cars, fishing and pontoon boats, $150,000 towards a dream wedding, free gas for 10 years, season tickets for West Virginia University and Marshall University football and basketball games, ski resort season passes, ATVs and side-by-sides, and zero-turn lawn mowers.

“(Babydog) is a face in all this tough stuff and you may have thought silly that all was, but at the end of the day she is a face that makes us smile,” Justice said. “Go get vaccinated. It will just make it better and better … some people are getting vaccinated because we’re really pumping it and really working it this way. The bottom line is this has worked.”

West Virginians can register at doitforbabydog.wv.gov.

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

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