MORGANTOWN — As the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine began to roll out early Monday, Gov. Jim Justice announced a new initiative to try to curb the ongoing surge: mandatory weekly testing at colleges and universities.
He ticked off some numbers: People under 50 account for just 3% of all COVID deaths in the state; for ages 50-60 it’s 5.4%; for 60-70, 14.25%; and above 70, 77.5%.
Meanwhile, he said, many people age 18-35 are positive and don’t know it. They may experience little or no symptoms, but may be spreading it to the more vulnerable. At the beginning of the school year, there was a successful statewide initiative to test all higher education students and staff, but it was a one-off.
So now they’re working on initiating weekly mandatory testing for college students. “If our kids know they’ve got it there’s no question they will absolutely respond,” he said.
The effort is still in the works and he didn’t have details. A question of whether private colleges will be included didn’t get answered, although they were included in the first go-round.
Justice did note that as long-term care residents get vaccinated in the first wave – after health care workers – testing resources will be freed up that can be shifted to the college testing program.
Justice spent some time on numbers and the current surge. As of Monday there were 978 deaths, 21,076 active cases and 720 hospitalized with 199 of those in ICUs. There were 15 red counties and 24 orange, though all re red based solely on infection/incidence rate.
There have been three major surges, he said. The March-April spring surge peaked after four weeks; the June-July summer surge peaked after five weeks. The current surge began Oct. 12 andhow now stretched past eight weeks.
There’s no real point in going into Mineral County and closing the bars, he said. For one, there’s no indication spread is coming from the bars. It’s nationwide. “This is coming at us from every direction it possibly can be coming at us.”
He talked about the vaccine plan and showed his mask. “This right here is your tool right now.”
Before the briefing, Justice and his staff met once again with Dr. Deborah Birx, a lead advisor on Vice President Mike Pence’s COVID task force. Among the issues they discussed was holiday get-togethers, he said.
If kids are too young to wear masks, it may be too dangerous to get together with them, he said. If everyone is masked and all you want to do is drop off presents and leave, “you’re probably OK to do that.”
And people who remember getting sugar cube vaccines at school or getting the polio vaccine that left a scar on their arm should get tested, he said. If you know soon enough, you can get treated – within one to three days is best.
COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh also dwelt on the age issue. As they discussed with Birx, he said, age is the single best predictor of death. According to the CDC, compared to those ages 18-29, the 50-64 age group is 30 times more likely to die if they acquire COVID; for 65-74, the odds are 90 times higher; for
75-84,220 times; and for 85 and up, 630 times.
Marsh said Birx praised West Virginia’s vaccine plan, which prioritizes the elderly and over-50 group in the early phases. This will save lives and reduce pressure on hospital beds.
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