Marsh: Omicron peak may be in 2 weeks

CHARLESTON — West Virginia COVID-19 “czar” Dr. Clay Marsh predicts that, if omicron variant cases peak in about two weeks, this will be followed by a rise in hospitalizations, then an increase in deaths.

During a briefing with state reporters on Wednesday, Marsh referenced a University of Washington study that suggested the omicron variant would peak in early February.

“We know all these modeling predictions are merely that,” he said. “We do think the omicron spread, in terms of new cases, will likely start to peak and plateau over the next five to 14 days. As we see the peak of cases in that plateau, that represents the spread of omicron to more rural parts of our state.

“We know that it is five to 14 days after that that we see an increase in hospitalizations,” Marsh continued, “and maybe two to three weeks after that, that we see an increase in deaths.”

The number of new cases will rise first, followed by hospitalization numbers and then the number of deaths, Marsh said. The longer the peak in new cases is spread out, the more it will help to reduce the surge on local hospitals, he explained.

“Whether it is early February or not, we are certainly watching that,” Marsh said.

Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday an additional 41 deaths in the state attributed to COVID, bringing the state’s total to 5,576. There were 915 patients hospitalized with COVID, 215 COVID patients in intensive care units and 125 on respirators.

Justice reported 133 COVID outbreaks having occurred in long-term care facilities in West Virginia. Additionally, 310 prison inmates in state custody have tested positive for COVID, as have 167 staff members.

Justice said 70.5% of those in the state age 18 or older have had at least one dose of COVID vaccine, but that many of the new cases are being found in children ages 5-18.

Marsh said 98% of the children hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated, and that 40% of these children experienced advanced symptoms that put them in intensive care units. In 29% of the cases, the child is in need of a respirator.

Justice was asked what could be done to encourage more families to have younger children vaccinated.

“We have pivoted so many different times,” he said. “We went out with Babydog and went to our schools. We did a lot of work, and I felt we really made some headway there. But at the same time, we were having a problem with our seniors not having their booster shots.”

There is additional work to do at senior centers to see more residents are vaccinated, Justice acknowledged.

“A lot of folks are probably sitting on the sidelines with their younger kids thinking this thing isn’t so bad, and that it will pass,” he continued. “Everybody is a little bit afraid of the dark. We have gotten so many conflicting opinions coming out of (Washington) D.C. and it’s got a lot of people scared. A lot of people are hesitant about their vaccines, especially about giving them to their kids.”

Marsh and Justice both termed the COVID vaccines for children “incredibly safe,” but Justice said he also understands parents’ concerns.

Justice reiterated his opposition to issuing any type of government mandates.

“From the standpoint of mandates, I am standing as strongly as I can for our freedoms,” he said. “I don’t think we should be mandating one another about what we should be doing. But we have to find a way to live with this.

“At the same time, I encourage you the vaccines are safe, the boosters are important, and if you get that you are stacking the deck in your favor and helping us across the board. You are helping us to not get overloaded in our hospitals. You’re helping us in lots and lots of ways.”

Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, reported 180 soldiers are on their way to Camp Dawson for training to assist at hospitals in the state. He reported that so far, 15 hospitals have requested assistance from the National Guard, and 350 soldiers will be trained.

State officials also announced that West Virginians and all Americans can obtain four free at-home COVID tests courtesy of the Biden Administration. These can be requested at COVIDtests.gov. West Virginia State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said results from the at-home tests are accurate, and she advised those testing positive to isolate and contact those with whom they had had close contact.


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