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State officials warn of pandemic burdens on health care

Photo provided Gov. Jim Justice at the Friday pandemic briefing. Justice said local authorities are in a better position to determine mask mandates.

CHARLESTON — Officials on Friday warned the health care system in West Virginia could soon be overwhelmed by the increasing number of COVID-19 cases fueled mostly by the more-infectious delta variant.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, coronavirus leader in West Virginia.

The state on Friday reported 1,328 new cases from Thursday to Friday morning and 13,766 active cases, with 547 people in a hospital, 178 patients in an intensive care unit and 81 people on ventilators. The state reported 526 people in the hospital on Thursday.

The rate of increase in new cases in West Virginia is now second fastest in the nation, Marsh said. Alabama and Arkansas have ran out of intensive care beds, he said,

“We will be in that same position if we don’t act now,” he said.

The situation is dire, but the solution is to get vaccinated, according to Marsh. State representatives have spoken to federal officials in getting the vaccine booster shot approved to be administered, he said.

“We want so badly for the people who have not been vaccinated to please do that. Save your life. Save your family’s life,” he said.

Mostly unvaccinated residents are in the hospital and the health care system is going to be pushed to the limit, Gov. Jim Justice said. Another question is will masks be effective.

“Our health care system is absolutely going to be pushed to the brink for sure and absolutely, if we’re not closer and closer and closer right now to the wheels coming off,” he said. “I’m telling you West Virginia, with 35 red counties (highest level of infection) you need to go get vaccinated and you need to run to get vaccinated today.”

Justice admonished those responsible for making death threats against local health department representatives, claiming the departments would be responsible for the imposition of mask mandates in schools.

“For God’s sake a living. Death threats? Over a mask? Do we really need to get to this?” he said. “This is an absolute shame.”

Unlike in the virus surge this past winter, the governor has not imposed mask mandates and other pandemic restrictions. Local authorities are in a better position to know what is needed, he said.

“I also know just this, I know the very second, the very second that we jump up and put a statewide mandate down you’re going to have an uprising of people who are going to try to reverse that and then right from that you’re going have a total fragmentation of us and if we begin to fragment it will cause us to be in a worse position than we are right now,” he said.

Some Republican lawmakers want to see a special session to pass laws prohibiting mask mandates and vaccine mandates. Delegates Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam, Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, and Roger Conley, R-Wood, have either submitted letters to the governor asking for a special session or expressed interest in passing legislation

State school Superintendent Clayton Burch said he agreed with the governor. Twenty outbreaks are in schools, which was not unexpected, Burch said.

Local superintendents who make the decision work with health departments and some counties with mask mandates have made them specific to individual schools, according to Burch.

“That’s the ability they have that we do not have,” he said.

The briefing also was briefly attended by virtual means by U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who was complimentary of the statewide initiative and contest to encourage students to vaccinate.

“This is a tough time to be a leader, but it’s an important time,” Cardona said.

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