With Christmas fast approaching, West Virginians need to put serious thought into whether traveling during a pandemic — out of state or even to another house in the same town to see friends or family, especially for an extended period of time — is the right thing to do.
This week has presented wonderful news, as the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived, and emergency responders are receiving the initial shot of the two-dose treatment, while a plan has been laid out to get vaccinations to those most at risk from the virus — the elderly in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities — as quickly as possible.
At the same time, COVID-19 continues to spread ever more quickly in West Virginia, and vaccinations won’t be available for the general population until March, according to the most optimistic estimates.
Thursday morning, the state Department of Health and Human Resources announced another 32 coronavirus deaths, putting the total at 1,071 and marking 92 deaths since the beginning of the week. The positivity rate of tests statewide was more than 10% on Wednesday and 8.13% on Thursday. While Gov. Jim Justice downplayed Wednesday’s alarming numbers, saying there weren’t as many tests as usual (slightly more than 12,000), Thursday’s percentage comes from a day in which more than 14,000 people were tested, typical for a 24-hour period.
There were 1,636 new cases reported Thursday, a new daily high. Active cases remained above 21,000, while cumulative cases, having just crossed the 60,000 mark late last week, are near 68,500. The DHHR’s color-coded risk map had 18 counties classified as red — the highest risk for spread and infection — and 24 at the second-highest threat level of orange. Nine counties were at the gold level, while only three were lower-risk yellow, and one county (McDowell) was listed at lowest-risk green.
Those levels were determined mostly by the lower metric of positive test percentage in each county. If following the metric of cases per capita — which DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said this week also should be heeded in determining risk — each of West Virginia’s 55 counties was red.
So, West Virginians find themselves in a precarious situation. A big part of the solution to this crisis has arrived in the form of the vaccine, but the rate of deaths, new cases and hospitalizations is trending significantly upward with each day that passes.
Masks, social distancing and limiting interactions with those outside the home remain the best defense until everyone is vaccinated, according to public health officials and the governor.
When eying holiday plans, West Virginians need to ask themselves who they might be endangering. It’s difficult. Everyone would like to be together for Christmas, and the risk might seem minimal. But even young and healthy individuals can carry and spread the virus to others easily, and usually without exhibiting any symptoms themselves. Contact with elderly relatives or even strangers through travel or attending gatherings, like church services, where best practices aren’t in place could be fatal for someone.
There is perhaps no holiday more sacred than Christmas, but this year, as counterintuitive as it would seem at any other time, the best gift might be distance.