As of Friday, West Virginia is officially in uncharted territory as it pertains to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state reported 29,774 active COVID-19 cases Friday morning, eclipsing the previous high of 29,257 reported on Jan. 10. That was the last domino to fall — the lone statistic from the pandemic’s previous surge that the state had yet to pass.
West Virginia long ago blew by hospitalization highs of 818 and ICU occupancy highs in the 100s, all set in early to mid-January. On Friday, there were 905 West Virginians hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those, 278 were in ICUs and 166 were on ventilators. The state has been setting new records in those categories every day.
As the numbers grow, so do breakthrough cases. Still, 80% of those hospitalized are unvaccinated, while 90% of those in intensive care and 91% of patients on ventilators didn’t get the COVID-19 vaccine. Yet, vaccination rates crawl along.
Recall that, before the delta variant hit, the vaccine effort was fairly strong and cases were dropping. In the spring, Gov. Jim Justice set a goal of getting 65% of West Virginians vaccinated by June 20, when he said he would relinquish his mask mandate. Numbers by agency vary, but under the most positive estimates, those of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia is still 15 percentage points shy of that mark nearly three months later.
Of course, Justice dropped the mask mandate anyway. Cases were low, public health officials were saying the vaccinated didn’t have to mask up. Why worry about inoculation rates?
That’s what makes the current situation so sad and regrettable. West Virginia was below 1,000 active COVID-19 cases in early July, and, two months later, thanks to those low vaccination rates and the delta variant, the pandemic is officially worse in this state than it has ever been. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia has the worst vaccination rates of any state in the country and the District of Columbia.
Meanwhile, the “run to the fire” governor on Friday had representatives arguing a grievance with the Greenbrier County Board of Education because the body refused to hire him as boys basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School, where he already coaches the girls. Priorities, right? Oh, and Justice has already said he’ll only coach games for the boys, not run practices. That way, he can do all of his jobs, including running the state during a pandemic, part-time. At least he’s consistent.
Where this goes from here is in the hands of individual West Virginians. But it’s been in their hands for a while, and not much seems to have changed. So, the state continues to watch how bad this can all get before it recedes, if it does.