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The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department will now offer monoclonal antibody treatments at its office in downtown Charleston in an attempt to slow hospital overcrowding in the region.

Monoclonal antibody treatments help people who are COVID-19 positive better fight the virus and its side effects, which are sending more people than ever to the state’s hospitals and intensive care units.

“Receiving an antibody treatment does not mean the person does not have COVID-19 after the treatment. It means they are better equipped to deal with COVID-19,” said Dr. Sherri Young, interim health officer. “The goal here is to keep our hospitals, our ICUs, our clinics from being overcrowded.”

The treatments will be given by physicians order only. They are not subject to walk-ins.

Anyone who is 12 years or older, and who weighs more than 82 pounds could be a candidate for the antibody treatments. To qualify, someone must have tested positive for COVID-19 in the 10 days prior to the treatment and show symptoms of the virus or have risk factors that would make them more vulnerable to it, like being immunocompromised.

Young said people who are too acutely ill, or who were diagnosed too long ago, may not qualify for the treatments. She urged people to talk to their doctors if they think the treatments could help, and to call the health department at 304-648-8080 to make an appointment or get more information.

The treatments will be given in a slightly renovated conference room on the first floor of the health department. Carpeting in the room has been replaced with wood flooring and the county’s emergency management team checked the space for adequate ventilation and air circulation.

Patients will be seated in large chairs, with an I.V. hook up standing next to them and curtains separating them from other patients.

The monoclonal antibodies will be given either through infusion or injection, depending on the patient or their physician’s preference.

To protect other clinic patients who are not COVID-19 positive, Young said there will be a separate entrance at the health department for people receiving the antibody treatments. Directions for entry will be given to people when they schedule their appointments

The treatments will be free to anyone who needs them.

“This is our last ditch effort,” Young said. “We know we have to try this to patients out of the hospital if we can.”

The announcement of the antibody treatments came as West Virginia, for a fourth straight day after weeks of rapid increases, hit new highs for COVID-19 related hospitalizations in the state. Per the state, there were 893 people hospitalized Thursday due to the virus, with 275 of them being treated in an ICU and 160 on ventilators.

The current virus surge has yet to peak, and even when it does, experts say a hospitalization peak won’t hit until weeks later. The peak for deaths will be even further off.

Carper said there were hospitals in the region Thursday reporting no available beds.

“Zero. They’re empty … we’re in worse shape today than at the previous height of the pandemic,” Carper said. “Again, this is our last ditch effort to have the opportunity to keep our hospitals from being overrun.”

A majority of people hospitalized — 84%, according to the state — are unvaccinated. More than 93% of people on ventilators are unvaccinated.

“We know, at this point, this is mostly a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Young said.

The more overcrowding there is at hospitals, the less services are available for other ailments and injuries.

The antibody treatments, Young said, will hopefully help keep hospitals from hitting their limits while also helping people who are sick have better outcomes.They are not, however, a replacement for vaccines, which are still the best protection available to stave off severe illnesses in people.

“The most important step right now is to get the vaccine. Don’t wait til next month. Don’t wait til next week. Get it today,” said Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler-Goodwin. “If we’ve learned anything lately, it’s that every single life is important. Get the vaccine.”

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

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