Younger people were never invincible or immune to COVID-19. They could become infected. They could get sick. They could lose their lives. It just didn’t happen that much.
That was before the United Kingdom variant of the virus had a strong toehold in the United States. As Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia coronavirus czar, said during a Monday briefing, that’s starting to change.
Public Health officials predicted last year the UK variant of COVID-19 would eventually become the dominant strain in the U.S. Vaccines are still very effective against the variant strain, Marsh said, but younger people — many of whom are just now becoming eligible for vaccination in states like West Virginia — are more at risk of contracting the variant.
Case numbers in West Virginia are back on a steady climb. A little more than two weeks ago, there were around 5,000 active cases in the state, down from a high of nearly 30,000 in January. But now the state is at nearly 7,000 active cases, and hospitalizations continue to climb. West Virginia public health officials say the UK variant is part of that trend reversal, though Marsh warned it could be a while before the state sees the full impact of the UK strain.
While the elderly continue to make up the majority of COVID-19 deaths in the state, there’s been a notable increase of victims in their 30s or 40s, and some even younger, in Gov. Jim Justice’s list of the deceased at the beginning of each of his public briefings.
The good news is the virus doesn’t appear to be spreading in schools — a massive concern for some when most West Virginia classrooms resumed in-person learning in late January. The state has more than 50 school-related outbreaks which account for nearly 280 COVID-19 cases. That’s not good, but state health officials say almost all of those outbreaks are tied to school athletic events. Marsh said preventive measures — such as students and teachers wearing masks — have kept spread from in-person learning to a minimum.
After lifting some public health restrictions and allowing school sports to resume last month, Justice doesn’t seem likely to reverse course unless there’s a truly massive surge in cases. To make sure that doesn’t happen, West Virginians should heed Justice, Marsh and others in their call to continue making good public health decisions over what is hopefully the final stretch if this pandemic.
This editorial has been corrected to reflect the correct number of COVID-19 cases stemming from outbreaks at West Virginia schools.