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Active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia took a nosedive over the weekend, going from nearly 30,000 on Friday to 21,490 on Monday morning. The state has never seen such a rapid decline over the course of the pandemic.

The hope is that West Virginia is past the peak of the delta variant, which, combined with low vaccination rates, took active cases from below 1,000 in early July to last week’s all-time high of 29,774.

Such a rapid decline is good news, especially if the trend holds true.

There are still some areas of concern, though. The state hit a new high for hospitalizations over the weekend, at 961, which had dropped slightly to 955 on Monday. The number of patients in intensive care went up to a new high of 292, and 164 were on ventilators, a number that’s been fairly consistent since last week.

There also were 54 new deaths reported Monday morning, putting West Virginia above 3,400 total pandemic deaths.

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Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s COVID-19 czar, expressed concern over the high number of deaths the state is now seeing, along with hospital caseloads that are poised to overwhelm the state’s health care infrastructure. Marsh and other officials warned that, even if West Virginia has peaked in terms of the delta variant, hospitalizations and deaths will likely surge for anywhere from two to six weeks.

Gov. Jim Justice announced a new program Monday meant to keep hospitals running and avoid “rationing” health care in the coming weeks.

The underlying problem remains state vaccination rates, which, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are the lowest in the country. If another variant strikes, or if the delta variant isn’t actually ebbing, West Virginia is ripe to get hit hard again.

As the governor said Monday, when vaccination rates go up, cases go down. Almost all West Virginians hospitalized for COVID-19 — especially those requiring the most serious care — haven’t been vaccinated. Until more West Virginians decide to get the shot, the potential for disaster will remain.

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