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Local health officials prep for vaccine

ELKINS — A local hospital has received a special freezer in preparation for storing a COVID-19 vaccine, officials said Monday.

Due to Thanksgiving gatherings last week, another spike in already high COVID-19 numbers is expected in days to come and state and local officials are pleading with the public to do their part when it comes to helping prevent the spread of the virus.

Statewide active cases have climbed from 13,678 last week to 16,787 this week, and according to the Department of Health and Human Resources website, there have been 845 new cases in the last 24 hours, and 17 new coronavirus-related deaths during this past weekend alone.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached a record high in the Mountain State at 597. Of those admitted, 162 are in intensive care units. Locally there are currently four people hospitalized with the virus, two of whom are in ICU.

Active cases are coming in so fast in Randolph County that officials are having a tough time keeping up with all the changes.

“It’s hard to have any specific numbers because things are happening too fast and we’re about overwhelmed here,” Bonnie Woodrum, the Randolph Elkins Health Department’s infectious disease specialist, said during this week’s Randolph County Office of Emergency Management COVID-19 update conference call on Monday.

“I would say we are in the neighborhood of 140 people (active cases). And we expect it to get worse after the holiday,” she said. “We have positive cases coming from all over. We have them in our resident care facilities, our health care workers and from all corners.”

Gov. Jim Justice said during his press briefing Monday that until the vaccine arrives the best protocol is to continue to do what the public has been asked to do – wear a mask, be socially distant, avoid large crowds and wash hands.

“For all those who don’t believe (in masks), what can it hurt? If you wear this mask and it doesn’t help much, but it helps a little, why not do it?” the governor asked. “For crying out loud, if you can’t heed these warnings then you’re not listening to even those who are crying from the grave.”

Justice is hoping all West Virginians will heed this advice in order for numbers to slow until the vaccine hopefully arrives later this month.

Woodrum said Monday that Davis Medical Center received its first piece of equipment in preparation for the vaccine.

“They have received their freezer for the ultra cold vaccine,” she said. “They’re (DMC) not sure when they are going to get the vaccine, but the first batch will be from Pfizer. We haven’t heard when we’re going to get ours at the health department either, but EMS and public health is supposed to be in the third week of distribution.”

Both Woodrum and Justice are hopeful that when the vaccine is available, all those eligible to take it will do so.

“We’ve figured out how we can die, now we’ve got to figure out how we can live. The vaccine is an opportunity to live,” Justice said.

As far as distribution of the vaccine, it will start with caregivers, nursing homes, and first responders, officials said.

“We don’t know how fast it will come out so that we can give it to the public,” said Woodrum. “Each group will be designated each week. They can’t quite give us thousands of doses or even hundreds to open a clinic for the public, because once it’s thawed the Pfizer vaccine can be kept at refrigerated temperatures for five days only. So we will be getting it on an ‘as you need it’ basis.”

The first vaccine is expected to arrive in West Virginia by mid-December, officials said.

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