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State Surpasses 5,000 COVID Deaths As New Cases Increase in W.Va.

West Virginia's Coronavirus Czar Clay Marsh speaks at a virtual press briefing with Gov. Jim Justice on Oct. 23, 2020.
WV Governor's Office
West Virginia's Coronavirus Czar Clay Marsh speaks at a virtual press briefing with Gov. Jim Justice on Oct. 23, 2020.

West Virginia hit another milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday. The state reported more than 5,000 West Virginians have died.

Deaths totaled 5,021 as of Tuesday, marking one out of every 357 people in the state. On average, eight West Virginians have died of COVID-19 every day since the pandemic began.

“We are currently 14th in the country, with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 people. And over the last week, we find ourselves the third in most deaths per 100,000 people in the country,” said state coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh.

West Virginia has not overcome the effects of the delta surge. Delta’s trajectory followed a bell curve in countries like India and southern U.S. states. Once the delta variant took hold, these places saw explosive growth in the number of cases, and hospitalizations and deaths, followed by a peak and then a rapid decline.

That hasn’t been the case in West Virginia. Cases peaked in September, but have yet to fall to pre-delta levels. The same trajectory goes for hospitalizations, which hovered around 100 statewide admissions before the delta surge took hold. Hospitalizations then peaked at about 1,000 and have not fallen below 500. As of Tuesday, 77 percent of those hospitalized are unvaccinated.

Now, these indicators are rising once again. Hospitalizations are up 15 percent and active cases are up 22 percent, just in the past two weeks.

“We have all signs saying that COVID is spreading again in West Virginia,” Marsh said.

Marsh attributes delta’s resurgence to the waning immunity of those who caught COVID-19 or were immunized months ago.

“You're seeing reinfection rates in people who did not become vaccinated go up because the potency of the immune response has gone down. And people that haven't been boosted or immunized in the past, we see those people getting infected, too,” Marsh said.

What the state is seeing now is not due to the latest omicron variant. Marsh said Tuesday no cases have been detected in the state.

Gov. Jim Justice is rolling out another vaccine incentive program, this time for senior citizens.

He announced that senior citizens who have been fully vaccinated and who choose to receive their booster shot during one of several upcoming COVID-19 booster shot clinics at senior centers across the state will be eligible to receive a $50 prepaid visa gift card.

Also, four senior centers across the state with the highest overall vaccination rates will also win a $100,000 grand prize and receive a visit from the governor and his English bulldog, Babydog.

"I'm sure that this time of year that money could really come in handy," said Justice. "We want more and more people across the finish line. We will be hosting clinics all across our state to help get as many people vaccinated and boosted as possible."

The governor's office has not yet released information on these clinics.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.

Copyright 2021 West Virginia Public Broadcasting

June Leffler