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On Thursday, Dr. Clay Marsh urged West Virginia residents to avoid becoming complacent about COVID-19, even with the easing of restrictions and as the number of new daily cases has fallen below 100 for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Marsh, vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s COVID-19 czar, warned Thursday that the most infectious, most severe COVID-19 variant to date, the Delta variant, is growing rapidly, and will become the most common variant in the United States in a matter of weeks.

“It’s a concern because so many people are still not vaccinated,” Marsh said during Thursday’s state COVID-19 briefing.

While most of West Virginia has yet to face the variant, he said, “We can almost be assured, over time, we will.”

The variant, which is believed to have originated in India, is much more infectious, causes more severe infection and is more likely to infect children than the UK variant or the original form of COVID-19, he said.

“People who are not vaccinated or only vaccinated partially are at significant risk,” Marsh said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Wednesday, West Virginia ranks 42nd in the percentage of population that is fully vaccinated, at 35.85%.

“While I agree 100% that things are looking better in West Virginia, as we’ve done throughout the whole pandemic, we need to be cognizant of risks coming at us in the future,” Marsh said, urging all West Virginians to be vaccinated.

Also during Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • Gov. Jim Justice said drawings for prizes in the first round of the state’s vaccination incentive sweepstakes will take place some time prior to their announcement on Sunday. He said winners will be notified that they have won one of the multiple prizes offered — but not told which — and will be encouraged to come to the Capitol on Sunday for the awarding of the prizes.
  • Justice said a vaccination incentive program offering $100 gift cards or U.S. Savings Bonds to residents ages 16-to-35 will end Sunday.

He described the program as “semi-successful,” saying about 39,000 people participated.

  • The governor announced that he will call the Legislature into special session for a second time this summer, on June 24, to appropriate $250 million in 2020-21 state budget surplus and other items.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@hdmediallc

.com, 304 348-1220, or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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