The number of COVID-19 cases is accelerating faster in West Virginia than any other state. That is according to an analysis by Emory Parker, data project manager at STAT, a national media company that investigates and reports on health, medicine and life sciences.
“Cases in West Virginia are speeding up faster than they ever have, and they’re speeding up faster than anywhere else in the country,” Parker said Tuesday on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources reported 22,215 active COVID-19 cases Wednesday. That is more than five times the number just a month ago.
The number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital continues to rise. The DHHR reports 813 hospitalizations as of Wednesday. That is more than three times the number from early August. Three-hundred and fifty of those patients are in a WVU Medicine hospital.
President and CEO Albert Wright told me on “Talkline” that the increase in COVID-19 patients, along with the normal patient load and staff shortages, is making it hard to keep up, requiring the hospital to move to a “crisis model.”
“We’re full at both our adult and children’s hospital in managing critical care patients around the state that are trying to get here [J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, WVU Medicine’s flagship facility],” Wright said. “So we’re trying to manage them remotely at smaller hospitals around the state, which is not an ideal situation, but the situation we’re facing right now.”
The consistent rise in the daily numbers, as well as the projections on the acceleration of COVID-19 cases, suggest we have not yet reached a peak.
“So if we’re overwhelmed at this point, or approaching the state where we’re overwhelmed, we’re not out of this yet,” Wright said. “We’re still on the upward surge. So, you have to start to look and see, how many folks can you take care of, who is the most likely to do well in those situations.”
That is a frightening prospect. It suggests that, if the patient load continues to build while staffing shortages remain, care in some instances could be rationed. Those are not decisions doctors and nurses want to make, nor is that news patients or their families want to hear.
Meanwhile, much of West Virginia is operating as though it is business as usual, but it isn’t. DHHR figures show that 51% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated. These folks are much better protected than the unvaccinated, although breakthrough cases are occurring.
The unvaccinated are at a much greater risk of getting really sick from the virus, spreading it to others and ending up in the hospital. Some might calculate that the odds are still in their favor, but enough of the unvaccinated are becoming seriously ill that it is putting a significant strain on the state’s health care system and further exhausting hospital workers.
Additionally, if a large percentage of the state’s population remains unvaccinated, the virus has a better chance of mutating and creating yet another COVID-19 variant, and one where the vaccines might be less effective.
West Virginia will get out of this, of course. For example, in Florida and Mississippi, COVID-19 cases were exploding just a few weeks ago, and they are now on the decline. But we are not there yet, and with colder weather and more indoor activities ahead, we still have a way to go.