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Officials: Harshest COVID-19 weeks may be coming

CHARLESTON — West Virginia is far from being out of the pandemic woods as the harshest weeks may be ahead, according to state officials.

They encouraged residents to get tested for the virus, wear face masks, social distance and avoid situations where there are large groups of people and extended contact.

“Masks equal vaccine,” Gov. Jim Justice said during his routine COVID-19 update Friday morning with state health officers.

“Wearing a mask and physically distancing 6 feet or more from other people and everybody does it, it is equivalent to having a vaccine today,” Dr. Clay Marsh, who heads the state’s coronavirus efforts, said. “It is equivalent to having a vaccine today and we’re not doing it at the level we need to. I’m not talking about the personal rights of people. I certainly respect that … but you are not just protecting yourself, you are protecting all of us.”

The number of cases of the virus around the state has “picked up dramatically” and hospitalizations are the highest in the last four to six weeks, about 41,000, Marsh said. Wisconsin opened field hospitals, he added.

“They started to put patients in those beds on Thursday,” Marsh said.

The reproductive rate, or Rt number, is 1.05, higher than what is wanted, in West Virginia, but the 12th best in the United States, Justice said. The Rt number indicates the rate of spread.

“What does it tell us? It tells us simple as mud, that this terrible killer is still with us and spreading across our land, all across the United States and West Virginia is not exempt and everything because we are the oldest and we are the highest in chronic illnesses,” he said.

He encouraged residents to get tested and follow recommendations such as wearing a face mask and social distance.

“We can’t just shut down, but at the same time we have to absolutely stay on top of it and keep on trying even though we’re tired,” Justice said.

Fourteen outbreaks have occurred in churches in 12 counties: Wood, Doddridge, Wetzel, Mason, Fayette, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Putnam, Upshur, Wayne and Wyoming.

Justice said he understands the importance of going to church, but to wear a mask, socially distance and wash hands, particularly for the older population.

“You may want to just take my words and think about them and take my advice, maybe just skip a few sermons and everything and with all that maybe try to pick up some online stuff,” he said.

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