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Clay Marsh news briefing

Dr. Clay Marsh speaks at a news briefing on July 29, 2021.

Health experts said Monday that increases in West Virginia’s rate of COVID-19 spread are “concerning,” especially as winter approaches.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s COVID-19 czar and vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University, said during Monday’s COVID-19 briefing that other regions recovering from late-summer surges also are beginning to see case counts “creep back up” over the past few weeks.

Marsh said West Virginia is beginning to see “an uptick” in its reproduction rate (or Rt) of COVID-19, which tracks how quickly the virus spreads between people.

“As we start to look at the present situation of [COVID-19] and the present status of [COVID-19] in the state of West Virginia, that is a bit concerning,” Marsh said.

Marsh did not say what the current reproduction rate is for West Virginia, and the metric is not listed on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

As of Monday, there were 6,318 active COVID-19 cases and 4,548 associated deaths, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ dashboard. Of those sick with the virus, 536 people are hospitalized, with 195 in intensive care units. Nearly half of those patients — 94 — are receiving care on a ventilator.

According to the dashboard, there were 38 active COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities Monday. State officials said there was one active church outbreak, in Nicholas County.

Also on Monday, Gov. Jim Justice announced a third round of his vaccination lottery, this one targeted at children ages 5-11. Last week, federal agencies granted an emergency-use approval for the Pfizer vaccine in children ages 5 and older. Registration for the prize drawings opens Tuesday.

The addition of the 5-11 age group dropped the percent of eligible state residents fully vaccinated from 53% to 49%. While 550,000 people over the age of 50 are fully vaccinated, only 45,000 — about 8%, “a big difference” — have received a booster, Marsh said.

Marsh urged anybody who is eligible to get their booster shots as soon as possible.

“We need you to be fully immune, to reverse the spread of COVID-19 in West Virginia,” he said.

For COVID-19 to become endemic — or routinely found and handled in a population, like the flu is — West Virginia would need 85% to 90% of its residents fully vaccinated, Marsh said.

“We are far away from that in West Virginia, and we are far away from that in our country,” he said. “It’s really critical at this point that people take the right precautions.”

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

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