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Presser 2 (copy)

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia University's chief health officer and vice president for health sciences, speaks during a March 17 evening press conference at the Capitol.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus czar, expressed some urgency as it pertains to the pandemic during a briefing Friday.

Marsh gave his most impassioned plea yet for West Virginians to wear masks in public settings and indoors, citing the now-evidenced effectiveness of face coverings in stomping out the spread of COVID-19.

Marsh has always been serious about these types of things, but he laid out the case particularly strongly Friday, along with a warning that this virus will get worse and health risks will rise as more people spend more time indoors and flu season hits.

Gov. Jim Justice’s takeaway that “masks equal vaccine,” might not be totally accurate, but some national health experts have said that masks can be as effective or more effective than a vaccine. Some have even said they’d take a mask over a vaccine, if forced to choose between one or the other.

While testing percentages and numbers of active cases can fluctuate in West Virginia, all of the raw data show COVID-19 cases steadily increasing. This is coming as the United States is seeing a third spike, with more than 80,000 new cases a day. Virus deaths in West Virginia surpassed 400 last week, carrying all the way to 424 by Monday morning. All of this is happening rapidly, when compared to the same statistics between March — when schools were dismissed and Gov. Justice issued an initial stay-at-home order — through the early summer.

Justice’s message on COVID-19 since businesses reopened and West Virginians began to travel and socialize more — not to mention reopening schools — has been back and forth, and muddy metrics haven’t helped. Marsh has sometimes enabled the governor’s wishy-washy approach to this crisis over the past three months or so. It was encouraging to see Marsh step up and address the issue with the seriousness it deserved, while encouraging state residents not to give up taking precautions out of fatigue — a message also touched on by the governor.

It has been a long haul and, in all likelihood, it will continue to be so for some time yet. The direct firmness with which Marsh laid out the coming challenges and the call for continued vigilance was something West Virginians needed to hear.