Coronavirus

CHARLESTON — As the surge in the COVID Delta variant continues to rise and tax the capacities of hospitals around the state, the sharp increase in the number of cases may peak in about two weeks.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s COVID-19 Czar, said Wednesday during Gov. Jim Justice’s pandemic briefing that based on the pattern of the virus shown in other places the peak could be hit in five to 14 days.

However, he said even after the peak is reached, a continued rise in the number of hospitalizations, patients in ICUs and on ventilators, and deaths could be seen for another

seven to 14 days.

The state is now in the “explosive growth phase” of the variant, he said, with the unvaccinated primarily hit and spreading it.

Marsh compared it to a “raging fire” in the state, fueled and spread by the unvaccinated.

“The vaccine is the firewall,” he said, but at this point it is too late to stop the surge, but can help prevent another.

“The surge has already started and it will need to consume itself out,” Marsh said.

Record numbers are being seen in hospitals across the state.

On Wednesday, Justice reported 813 COVID hospitalizations, nearing the record 818 set during the January surge, with 252 in ICUs and 132 on ventilators, both record numbers.

Karen Bowling, Princeton Community Hospital President and CEO, said Tuesday PCH and hospitals in the state and surrounding states are out of ICU beds and patients must remain in Emergency Departments until a bed becomes available.

Jim Hoyer, director of the state Joint InterAgency Vaccine Task Force, said Wednesday the unvaccinated comprise 83 percent of COVID hospitalizations, 90 percent of those in ICUs and 92 person of COVID patients on ventilators.

The unvaccinated, he said, are taking up hospital space from those who may need treatment for other serious conditions.

“We wouldn’t be here if everyone had been vaccinated,” he said.

Hoyer said the state is working with hospital leaders to help meet the challenges, and a plan is in place to address overflow as the hospitals are now managing care as well as they can.

“Staffing availability is the challenge that is the hardest to manage,” he said.

“Hospitals are overwhelmingly inundated with cases of unvaccinated people,” Justice said. “West Virginia leads the nation in acceleration of new cases.”

Justice also reported outbreaks in 68 schools in 31 counties, with 10 schools and one county school system closed temporarily.

According to the West Virginia Department of Education, those outbreaks include 547 COVID cases.

Dr. Ayne Amjad, state Health Officer, said the Delta variant is impacting kids, with between 800 and 1,200 positive cases on average over a seven-day period among those under 18 years old.

“We do have a lot of cases who are less than 18,” she said. “We are not seeing a lot of young people getting the vaccine like we thought we would. We do want people to get their children vaccinated … We are trying our best to get the message out there.”

Masks are required in schools in 29 of the state’s 55 counties, including Mercer, McDowell and Monroe counties.

Dale Lee, a Princeton resident who is president of the West Virginia Education Association, told the state Board of Education during its meeting Wednesday all schools should require masks if in red or orange.

“Due to the all-time high rate of COVID positives and quarantine-related absences, we ask the WVDE to go back to the map that was used last fall,” he said. “When outbreaks reach the orange and red thresholds in communities, mask requirements for students need to be implemented in those corresponding counties.”

But the board took no action on any changes.

As of Wednesday, 52 counties were in red or orange, with 44 of those in red, which indicates a high level of community spread.

Justice has also rejected any mask mandates in schools, opting for local control instead.

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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