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The number of new daily COVID-19 cases in West Virginia continues to slowly decline. The Department of Health and Human Resources reported less than 9,000 active cases, as of Wednesday, down from more than 25,000 a month ago.

Hospitalizations also are beginning to drop, down to 721 Wednesday, compared to more than 1,000 last month.

However, we are not out of the woods yet. Consider the news out of J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, in Morgantown, over the weekend. Seventeen people died from complications of COVID-19.

WVU Medicine reported that 15 of the people who died were not vaccinated. One had been vaccinated and officials were uncertain about the other. The youngest was 21, while the oldest was in their 70s. Five of those who died were only in their 50s.

According to DHHR figures, 4,145 West Virginians have died from COVID-19.

Of course, behind these statistics are real people, men and women with families, friends, careers, memories and, for the younger victims, still hopes and dreams for the future.

Dr. Alison Wilson, who leads Ruby Memorial’s ICU, Critical Care and Trauma Institute, said Monday on “Talkline” that she is confident many of the deaths at Ruby this past weekend could have been prevented if the people had been vaccinated.

“It’s become a real tragic scene to see young families bringing teenage and younger children into the hospital to say goodbye to their mother or their father,” Wilson said.

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Sadly, health experts and political leaders still must beg people to get vaccinated. The rate of people getting shots in West Virginia continues to slowly decline. Only 58% of West Virginians age 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

“The vaccine definitely helps your body mount an immediate response to fight it off,” Wilson said.

But tens of thousands of West Virginians are choosing to either ignore the medical advice or rely on their natural immunity to protect them. Last week, a caller to “Talkline” referenced two studies — one from the Cleveland Clinic and another from Israel — that touted the benefits of natural immunity.

It is true that both studies referenced the power of the human immune system post-infection to fight off another round of the virus. However, in both instances, health experts still said that getting the vaccine is safer and more effective than risking getting COVID-19 to build up natural immunity.

The Cleveland Clinic made a point of putting its research in context.

“More research is needed. We do not know how long the immune system will protect itself against re-infection after COVID-19,” the medical center said. “It is safe to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, even if you have previously tested positive, and we recommend all those who are eligible receive it.”

As I have written before, we have reached an impasse on vaccines. Most people who are resisting the shot are not likely to change their mind.

However, as the disturbing number of deaths this past weekend at Ruby Memorial demonstrates, that decision comes with a risk, especially for people who have co-morbidities.

Hoppy Kercheval hosts “Talkline,” on MetroNews.

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