CHARLESTON — A recent drop in COVID statistics around the state leveled out and is now trending back up slightly, a change that has state officials concerned.
“We’ve got to be smart here, we’ve got to be cautious,” Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday during his pandemic briefing. “We are starting to see this thing going back up. It’s not time for high alert, but we absolutely made the right decision to wear a mask.”
Since last week, the number of COVID-related deaths has increased after dropping recently, with 34 reported since Monday.
The number of active cases has started to trend up slightly, from a low of 5,157 on March 12 to 5,206 Wednesday. Hospitalizations for COVID cases around the state have jumped from a low of 151 to 190 Wednesday with ICU patients also increasing to 70 from 50 on Monday.
Justice said the state also has a red county again, Hardy County, the first one in more than a week.
Outbreaks in churches are on the rise again, with seven in five counties and 54 total cases. Last week, only one church outbreak was reported.
“This thing is ticking up a little bit in West Virginia and it is ticking up across the nation in about half our states,” he said. “This thing is tough and it’s not going away easily … You’ve got to be careful, wear your masks, get vaccinated. Everybody has to get vaccinated.”
Justice said the virus has not gone and it “will jump on us” if residents are not careful and fail to get vaccinated.
Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 Czar, said a pattern in the past is being repeated.
“In Europe, they are seeing a third surge,” he said, pointing to Germany and Italy in particular where deaths and cases are on the rise again.
Marsh said the UK variant “tends to be spreading very quickly and younger people are getting more severely ill than before.”
Vaccinations are crucial to stop that spread, he said, using Israel as an example of a country that has seen widespread vaccinations and more protection from a surge.
“All three vaccines are completely effective in reducing deaths and hospitalizations,” he said. “We are not out of the woods yet. We have made dramatic and important progress … but we also know we are seeing more spread.”
Marsh said the increase in hospitalizations is “concerning.”
All of this makes it imperative to continue taking precautions.
“This is a critical time for us,”” he said.
Testing also remains a priority for residents.
Dr. Ayne Amjad, state Health Officer and head of the Bureau of Public Health, said free testing sites remain available around the state.
The uptick in new cases is “not alarming at this time, but we do encourage you to get tested,” she said, especially if any symptoms at all surface.
Amjad also said one county has seen an uptick in school outbreaks, with four schools in Hardy county having outbreaks involving 17 cases. Peterstown Middle School in Monroe County has an outbreak with five cases.
All schools recently returned to in-person learning five days a week.
According to the West Virginia Department of Education outbreak chart, 27 outbreaks in school systems are active, involving a total of 109 cases.
Justice said the state continues to try to get doses into the arms of the most vulnerable age group, 65 and older, and urged them to preregister on Everbridge at vaccinate. wv.gov or call 1-833- 734-0965.
They will go to the front of the line, he said, adding that 58 percent of that population has received at least one dose, with a total of 136,650 fully vaccinated.
The names of those preregistered in the state system are relayed to the county of residence and then should be notified of an appointment for a shot.
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