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I went to the emergency room of WVU Medicine in Morgantown Wednesday night. The expansive waiting room was filled with sick people. The wait was going to be hours.

This is not a criticism of the hospital; it is a firsthand account of what is happening at hospitals across West Virginia and in many parts of the country — they are crushed. The ER is often the first point of contact for the sick, and, if necessary, they are then admitted.

In West Virginia, admissions are rising again. According to Department of Health and Human Resources figures Thursday, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations alone has reached 758, up from just over 500 two months ago.

Meanwhile, hospitals are handling their normal load of patients for heart disease, cancer, stroke, broken bones and every other malady that brings people in for care.

Dr. Adam Crawford, medical director for Charleston Area Medical Center’s Emergency Department, said Thursday on MetroNews’ “Talkline” that the fast-spreading omicron variant is one of the contributors to the increase.

“Obviously, the new variant is presenting new challenges because, going into this variant, we’re full,” Crawford said. “I think that’s been the biggest difference ... we’re a hospital and health care system that’s at capacity, and taking on more is a strain.”

But strain they must, at CAMC and every other hospital and clinic in the state, because of the demand.

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Meanwhile, West Virginia is becoming even more bifurcated on vaccinations and is in the bottom three nationally in state vaccination rates.

But, even as health officials struggle to get more West Virginians fully vaccinated, Gov. Jim Justice is floating the idea of a second booster.

State COVID-19 czar Dr. Clay Marsh, of West Virginia University, said Thursday that yet another shot might be needed for the older population.

“We vaccinated our most vulnerable population first, and we know that lag time now is the longest for them,” Marsh said during Thursday’s state COVID-19 briefing. “We are very quickly approaching the four-month window when we know the potency of those vaccines are wearing off.”

Israel already is administering a fourth dose to its older population, and a preliminary study shows it is highly effective. The study by Israel’s Sheba Medical Center found that the fourth dose caused a five-fold increase in antibodies that fight the virus.

No, the vaccine is no guarantee against COVID-19, but DHHR figures show that, since the vaccine was first made available in West Virginia, the fully vaccinated account for only 12% of total cases. Just 5% of the total breakthrough deaths (451) were fully vaccinated people.

The vaccine, booster shots, masks, regular hand washing and avoidance of large crowds remain the most effective ways to avoid infection. But our lagging vaccination rate and the emergence of the omicron variant guarantees that West Virginians’ wait at the ER will be a long one.

Hoppy Kercheval hosts “Talkline,” on MetroNews.

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