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Fearing another COVID-19 surge as new cases spiked Wednesday, West Virginia leaders reiterated their call for people to get boosters.

Coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh said the state’s mix of unvaccinated and “very vulnerable” people needing boosters is causing him “substantial anxiety” with cold weather looming.

About 550,000 West Virginians older than 50 — the “most vulnerable group” in the state, Marsh said — have been fully vaccinated, meaning nearly 9% have received boosters. According to the state’s dashboard, 48,504 additional doses have been administered to fully vaccinated West Virginians.

Eligible for boosters are people older than 18 years of age who received two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines six months ago or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine two months ago.

The state’s effective virus reproduction rate increased to 0.92 Wednesday compared to 0.83 last week, Marsh said. A reproduction rate of 1.0 means that, for every person with the virus, another is being infected, indicating the virus is spreading. A rate of less than 1.0 indicates the spread is slowing.

“We know that, when that value goes above one, we will see a surge in COVID-19 cases, followed by a delayed surge in hospitalizations and then deaths,” said James Hoyer, head of the state interagency task force. “We need to continue to reinforce not just first shots, but boosters.”

Cases are increasing elsewhere in the country, with cooler temperatures driving gatherings indoors, Marsh said. West Virginia, he said, should prepare for the same.

Total cases in West Virginia reached 279,694, with 857 reported Wednesday, more than triple the new cases from Tuesday. Active cases reached 6,115, an increase from Tuesday of 178. With 24 deaths reported Wednesday, the state total hit 4,592.

Hospitalizations were down 24 to 530 on Wednesday, with 177 patients in intensive care and 81 on a ventilator, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources dashboard. Three-fourths of people hospitalized with the virus are unvaccinated, including 85% of those in intensive care.

About half of eligible residents are fully vaccinated.

Active outbreaks increased by two, to 37, at long-term care facilities, with one other at a Nicholas County church.

To find a vaccine, visit http://vaccines .gov. For information on vaccines, call 1-800-232-0233.

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

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