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Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 continued to climb in West Virginia on Friday as Kanawha County hit a new record for cases reported in one day.

The county — which holds the highest vaccination rate in the state, with 602 per 100,000 people fully vaccinated — reported 907 new COVID-19 cases on Friday. The previous high was set Jan. 6, when 789 new cases were reported, according to news releases from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and the Kanawha County Commission.

Friday marked the third time in the past month the county has set a daily record for new cases. On Dec. 30, the record was just 268 new cases in one day.

“Along with other medical experts, we have warned that the omicron variant is highly contagious and does not show any signs of slowing. For the last 691 days, Unified Health Command in Kanawha County has worked tirelessly to fight this pandemic,” said interim county health officer Dr. Sherri Young in a news release Friday. “While we are all tired of COVID, this continued level of community spread is taking a toll on our front-line health care workers, first responders and the health command team.”

In total, West Virginia reported 5,335 new COVID-19 cases Friday. On average, the past seven days have seen more COVID-19 cases recorded than at any other seven-day period since the pandemic began.

Over that same time, vaccinations are the lowest they’ve been since they started being offered in December 2020, according to James Hoyer, head of the state’s joint interagency task force.

“For the first week since we’ve been tracking vaccine [uptake], we have seen a less than 0.1%-a-day increase across all our age groups,” Hoyer said.

Hospitalizations totaled 980 on Friday, an increase of 28 since Thursday and 122 since last Friday, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVID-19 website dashboard.

Dr. Clay Marsh, state coronavirus czar, said during Friday’s COVID-19 news briefing that there’s a good chance hospitalizations will continue to increase over coming days and weeks.

“Across the country, in some of the earliest-hit places, [many] more urban, there is a plateauing in hospital numbers in those places, but our numbers are going up,” Marsh said. “Our all-time high [number of people hospitalized] was 1,012 [in September]. It’s very likely we’ll exceed that at a time in which we are more challenged with short staffing than we have ever been before.”

Hoyer said 200 members of the West Virginia National Guard would have assignments by the end of Friday to assist hospitals that have requested help. More Guardsmen were receiving training in anticipation of the growing need.

Of those currently hospitalized with the virus, 228 are in intensive care units and 131 are receiving care on a ventilator, according to the DHHR.

Nearly 70% of those hospitalized are unvaccinated. That increases to 82% for those in the ICU and 86% for people on ventilators.

To date, 5,609 West Virginians have died from COVID-19, including 19 reported Friday.

Marsh said studies from other regions released this week further prove the effectiveness of vaccines and boosters. Those who are over 65 years old and who are vaccinated and boosted are 49-times less likely to be hospitalized with the virus, compared to their unvaccinated counterparts, he said.

For those ages 50 to 65, that protection was 44-times higher. And in a separate study, Marsh said, children who were vaccinated and boosted were 75% less likely to catch the virus.

“The real message today is that we still have not seen the peak of COVID-19, of the omicron variant, in West Virginia. Our hospital numbers are rising, and our basic mission is to save lives and make sure we’re protecting the capacity of our hospital systems,” Marsh said. “Emerging data in adults and children suggest that vaccinating and boosting, when eligible, are the two most important things we can look to as we try to make this pandemic become endemic.”

To date, only about 56% of eligible West Virginians — 945,371 people — are fully vaccinated. Those rates are lowest among children, the DHHR dashboard notes. Of those who are fully vaccinated, 39% — 370,160 people — have received a booster dose.

Booster doses are available to anyone age 12 and older who received an initial round of an mRNA vaccine at least five months ago, or the Johnson & Johnson single shot two months ago.

Caity Coyne covers health. She can be reached at 304-348-7939 or Follow @CaityCoyne on Twitter.

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