With new COVID-19 cases, total active cases, hospitalizations and ICU cases all ticking up in West Virginia, state COVID-19 czar Dr. Clay Marsh on Friday urged continued vigilance against the virus, particularly among those ages 30 to 49.
Marsh, vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University, cited Michigan, where spread of the UK variant of the virus has caused a more than 600% surge in hospitalizations of those ages 30 to 39, and an 800% increase in hospitalizations among those 40 to 49.
“We’ve seen what has happened in Michigan, and we absolutely do not want to see that happen in West Virginia,” Marsh said during the state COVID-19 briefing.
“It is really critical for us in West Virginia to make ourselves more resilient to the virus,” he added, urging West Virginians to get vaccinated and to continue to maintain COVID-19 safety protocols.
In West Virginia on Friday, 499 new cases were reported — more than double the daily average for most of the month — with 5,811 total active cases, an increase of about 400 cases in one week.
Hospitalizations totaled 231, with 81 patients in the ICU, both notable increases since mid-March.
The uptick is occurring three weeks after Gov. Jim Justice lifted a number of executive orders originally put in place to restrict activities in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus. That included allowing bars and restaurant indoor dining to resume at 100% capacity.
State Public Health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said the uptick appears to be concentrated in border counties and among young adults, with spread generally limited to immediate households.
“We’re seeing it more in our younger people, who tend to be more social,” she said.
According to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVID-19 dashboard, 1,547 of the 2,624 new cases reported in the past week are people under 40, while only 349 cases were reported among West Virginians age 60 and older.
Justice said that’s a factor of state efforts to prioritize vaccinating older residents, with 231,422 West Virginians 65 and older having received at least one shot, a vaccination rate of more than 60%.
“It tells us these vaccines are absolutely kicking the pandemic’s butt,” Justice said.
The state opened vaccinations to all residents age 16 and older effective Monday.
Also during Friday’s briefing:
- Erica Boggess, executive director of the West Virginia Housing Development Fund, announced the launch of the Mountaineer Rental Assistance Program.
Available to renters with incomes of up to 80% of area median income, the program covers past due and pending rental payments dating back to April 1, 2020, through up to three future payments.
It also covers past due and upcoming electric, gas, water, sewer and trash payments for the same period, and also provides a one-time $300 stipend for internet service.
Payments will be made directly to landlords and utility companies, she said.
- Justice said an independent investigation into the failure of hospitals, health care providers and nursing homes to timely report a total of 185 COVID-19 deaths to the DHHR is complete, with investigators scheduled to brief DHHR officials Friday afternoon. Justice said the findings will be made public sometime afterward.
Justice said he believes “things got skewed” during a major spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in late December into January.