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Presser 2 (copy)

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia University's chief health officer and vice president for health sciences, speaks during a March 17 evening press conference at the Capitol.

State officials on Monday urged West Virginians to exercise extreme vigilance going into the Christmas holiday season, in hopes of avoiding a second surge of holiday-related COVID-19 cases.

“This is a time we have to be particularly careful,” Dr. Clay Marsh said during Monday’s Justice administration COVID-19 briefing.

“The next couple of months are going to be a very big risk time for all of us in the United States and in West Virginia,” he added. “It is a time when every West Virginian needs to be focused on reducing the individual risk of getting COVID or giving COVID.”

Marsh, the state’s COVID-19 czar and vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University, said a spike in travel and in family and group gatherings over the Thanksgiving weekend resulted in a record surge in COVID-19 cases in West Virginia and many other states.

In the weeks following the holiday weekend, West Virginia experienced more than 25,000 new cases of COVID-19, and saw record numbers of active cases, hospitalizations, and nearly 300 deaths. On Friday, total hospitalizations began to decline for the first time since the holidays.

Given relatively warm weather in West Virginia over the Thanksgiving weekend permitted outdoor activities, the upcoming holidays could surpass those records, as cold weather keeps people cooped up indoors, Marsh said.

“Things actually could be worse coming up,” he said.

Complicating matters, Marsh said, are reports from the United Kingdom that the virus there has mutated into a more infectious form.

He said those mutations involve changes to the protein spikes the virus uses to attach itself to human cells. While that has contributed to a spike in cases in the U.K., Marsh said, the mutated virus does not appear to be more virulent.

He said that, while there is no evidence the mutated virus has reached the United States, the virus’ ability to become more infectious should be a warning to West Virginians.

“It underscores the point that we don’t want people to be infected,” Marsh said, saying that it is more important than ever that West Virginians follow COVID-19 protocols, and avoid attending group or family gatherings without wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.

Gov. Jim Justice on Monday again encouraged West Virginians to wear face masks. During the briefing, the governor aired a public service ad from the Cabell-Huntington Health Department promoting mask wearing with the theme, “It’s not forever. It’s for each other.”

Also during Monday’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • Justice said West Virginia expects to receive a total of 44,300 doses of Pfizer and newly approved Moderna vaccines on Tuesday.

Last week, the government administered 15,135 of the 16,575 doses of vaccine it received, a record 91.3 percent rate, according to Bloomberg Media.

  • National Guard Adj. Gen. James Hoyer said West Virginia is on pace to complete vaccinations of residents and staff at the state’s 214 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities by the end of the month.

Reach Phil Kabler at, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.