Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday lamented the increasing number of COVID-19 cases being reported across the state, including a sharp rise in the number of delta variant cases.
“It’s tough stuff,” Justice said. “It’s just plain tough stuff, and we absolutely need to be on guard. So we’re going to be proactive and get out ahead of it. We’ve got to do something, and that’s all there is to it.”
Despite this, Justice did not announce any new actions to help mitigate spread of the virus on Thursday.
“We’ve done everything we can do,” the governor said during his coronavirus news briefing.
Justice did urge residents to “be cautious” as delta variant cases have more than doubled since Tuesday — from 43 to 100 — and total cases and hospitalizations continue to trend upward.
As of Thursday, there were 133 people hospitalized in the state with COVID-19, with 54 people being treated in intensive care units and 20 patients on a ventilator. That’s the highest those numbers have been since the first week of June, according to state data.
Elsewhere in the country, officials have been more proactive in their response to the virus. New York and California will mandate vaccinations or regular testing for state workers. President Joe Biden announced similar mandates for federal employees Thursday.
Earlier this week, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidance for indoor face mask usage for fully vaccinated people in areas with “substantial” or “high” virus spread. Five West Virginia counties — Braxton, Webster, Lewis, Marshall and Mason — have been classified by the agency as having high spread, while 18 are reporting substantial spread and 27 moderate spread.
Justice said Thursday he has no plans to implement any mask or vaccine mandate — “all that would do is break us apart,” he said.
According to Department of Health and Human Resources data, about 47% of eligible West Virginians are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates have slowed in recent months despite incentive programs like the ongoing vaccination lottery and the gift card giveaway.
Over that same time, the delta variant — which is reported to be much more transmissible than the earlier COVID-19 virus — has grown in the United States and in West Virginia, often in unvaccinated pockets, according to experts.
Justice did announce a new voluntary antibody testing program for residents age 60 and older who received the vaccine more than six months ago.
Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s COVID-19 czar, said this information will be collected and passed on to the CDC to learn more about vaccine efficacy and the potential need for booster shots.
James Hoyer, who oversees the state’s COVID-19 task force, said there will be ongoing efforts to see how much personal protective equipment is available to hospitals and health care centers, should demand increase amid the rising cases.
- Justice appointed Edward A. “Ted” Diaz as Cabinet secretary for the state Department of Veterans Assistance. Diaz is a U.S. Navy veteran who previously worked at the VA Central Office in Washington, D.C.