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Gov. Jim Justice on Monday continued to champion his hands-off approach to dealing with the current COVID-19 surge, even as the seven-day average of new daily cases reported in West Virginia reached a record high.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVID-19 dashboard, West Virginia averaged 1,506 new infections daily from Aug. 30 through Sunday. The previous pandemic high was 1,502, set Jan. 4-10.

From July 1-7, the seven-day average of new daily cases was just 40. Since that time, the seven-day average has climbed sharply, as opposed to the gradual buildup in new cases seen during November and December 2020.

More West Virginians were on ventilators Monday — 112 — than at any point in the pandemic. More than 700 people were hospitalized, including 216 in intensive care units — three shy of the pandemic record set on Jan. 6. There were 21,500 active cases reported Monday. Justice said 93% of those people are unvaccinated.

“How many of them are going to die? Probably a bunch of them, to tell you the truth,” Justice said Monday during a media appearance.

The governor answered a pointed question about the Putnam County school board’s steadfast refusal to implement a mask mandate in schools, saying his decision to allow localities to control guidelines remains the best path forward. He said the people of Putnam County should be advocating for vaccinations, masking their own children and, if they want a mandate, lobbying board members to implement one.

“I would tell the people of Putnam County, really and truly, that, if they do not agree with what’s going on there, they shouldn’t elect these people as school board members. They should not go to the polls and just elect them and rubber stamp these people,” he said.

Only Pleasants and Tucker counties were not red or orange on the state’s county alert map, as of Monday. Putnam County had a 93.6% infection rate, according to the dashboard.

“I think our local control on masking has been the best decision,” Justice said.

State interagency task force director James Hoyer urged people to get COVID-19 and flu vaccines, as flu season approaches. He said unvaccinated people will compound outbreaks, if West Virginians do not make both shots a priority.

State health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said health officials are advising people to wear face masks indoors. The governor has not made mask wearing mandatory.

Officials will monitor the new-cases count in the next few weeks to see what effect gatherings over the Labor Day holiday might have, but Justice predicted grim milestones to continue for West Virginia.

“I personally believe we have more bad days in front of us than good right now,” he said.

Joe Severino is an enterprise reporter. He can be reached at 304-348-4814 or Follow @jj_severino on Twitter.

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