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W.Va. COVID deaths slowly decreasing

CHARLESTON — Although active COVID-19 cases are at less than half the number they reached a month ago and hospitalizations are slowly declining, the number of deaths attributed to the virus are expected to take longer to follow suit.

“We’re through the peak of this surge, but we’re not through this surge,” Bill Crouch, cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, said during Gov. Jim Justice’s online COVID briefing Friday. “Deaths will continue and will start declining, but they’re the last indicator that we see drop.”

The DHHR reported 60 additional deaths Friday, bringing the state’s total to 4,108 since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. That followed 50 deaths announced Thursday, with Justice reading the ages and counties of residence of all 110 during the briefing.

Active cases crept above 10,000 again Friday after three days below that mark. The number peaked at 29,744 on Sept. 16.

Speaking during an abbreviated briefing prior to his announcement of a new broadband expansion initiative, Justice continued to urge West Virginians to get vaccinated against the virus. He said statistics show the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 deaths in the state have been among the unvaccinated.

“The amount is staggering. We’ve got to get you vaccinated. It is so important. Please, please consider it. Please get all the information you can possibly get and remember just one thing … If I had any other way, I would be telling you,” Justice said. “The vaccines are really safe. I have no other bullet in the gun.”

According to the state’s COVID dashboard Friday, of the 2,987 deaths since vaccinations began, 7.64 percent have been “breakthrough” cases involving individuals who were fully vaccinated.

Justice and Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus czar, also emphasized the importance of getting an annual flu vaccination, which can be done at the same time as a COVID shot. Having two respiratory viruses simultaneously could lead to “more severe consequences with breathing and oxygenation,” Marsh said.

“The co-occurrence of the flu with the delta variant of COVID-19 in somebody that doesn’t have immunity related to vaccination or have other immunities would be concerning, which is the reason why we’ve been so proactive in supporting vaccination for both COVID-19 and for influenze,” he said.

Asked what factors might contribute most to severe outcomes from COVID-19 infections, Marsh said age is primary, with people over 65 at the greatest risk, followed by obesity.

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