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Officials: Numbers will rise after virus peak

CHARLESTON — The governor thinks West Virginia may be getting nearer to the peak of the current COVID-19 surge, but hospitalizations and deaths will continue to climb for several weeks after, state officials said Friday.

“I feel in my heart that we’re getting closer,” Gov. Jim Justice said during his Friday pandemic briefing. “But at the same time when you’ve lost 70-some folks and you have to go through and read these people and everything, it’s really, really sad. That’s all there is to it.”

The Department of Health and Human Resources reported 29,744 active cases statewide Friday, a new peak number exceeding the 29,257 cases in the second week of January. Friday’s active cases were nearly 1,000 more than on Thursday,

Also, the state received 2,320 new cases from Thursday to Friday and confirmed 57 more deaths in the same period, including 18 found during the routine data reconciliation with death certificates by the Bureau of Public Health.

“Our data analytics teams has been looking at a number of different factors and we do believe that we are within a short period of time from a point of peak of cases,” said James Hoyer, head of the interagency task force on vaccines.

Numerous factors are considered and through a team through West Virginia University, there is a daily assessment of transmission rates, a key factor in understanding where the state stands, according to Hoyer.

The data from past surges also shows that once reaching a peak number of cases, there’s period before there’s a peak in hospitalizations, Hoyer said.

“We anticipate a two- to four-week continued increase in hospitalizations even after we reach a peak of new cases, and deaths should even lag more, at least based on other countries and what we have seen before,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, COVID-19 leader in West Virginia.

“So looking at our transmission rates, we do believe we are approaching the – we talked about this inverted vee – the top of the peak,” Marsh said. “Even when we start to see that come down some, we’re still not out of the woods yet.”

It is important to support each other, he said.

“But also make sure that we are really careful right now, because our hospitals are really full and challenged the way they haven’t been challenged before,” Marsh said. “It’s really about all of our ability in doing the right things, the smart things that we can do to keep our hospitals doing OK, keep everything open for everybody. That way then we’re going to make it this through together.”

Hoyer also announced the state is expanding the availability of monoclonal antibody treatments to 30 additional counties in pharmacies and health care centers. Following a positive test for the virus, the treatments if taken soon can ease the complications from the disease and can prevent hospitalizations, easing the burden on hospitals, he said.

The treatment is not a replacement for a vaccination, said Dr. Sherri Young of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Health Office where six people received the free antibody treatment. The treatment offers limited protection compared to full vaccination, she said.

“Vaccinations are the answer,” Justice said.

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