Governor Jim Justice said there are a lot of reasons to celebrate this Sunday.
June 20th will mark the state’s 158th birthday and it is Father’s Day. Also, the state’s mask mandate expires, and the state will hold the first of a series of lottery drawings for prizes for West Virginians who have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
“There’s been a lot of miserable days and a lot of prayers and a lot of lonely, lonely, nights,” Justice said at his media briefing earlier this week. “But yeah, this Sunday will be a great day… a great, great day.”
Yes, it does finally feel as though the pandemic is mostly behind us. The numbers are headed in the right direction, according to DHHR tracking.
The number of reported infections continues to trend downward. The daily average of positive cases has been hovering around 100 for nearly three weeks, down from over 300 in May and a peak of 2,000 in January.
Hospitalizations for Covid-19 are at their lowest level in nearly a year, and a quarter of what they were in January.
The percent of individuals testing positive is less than two percent, compared with over seven percent in May and the teens in January.
Tragically, West Virginians are still dying from Covid. However, the number of deaths is down 22 percent in the last 14 days, according to the New York Times Coronavirus tracking map.
Unfortunately, the number of West Virginians getting vaccinated has also slowed significantly. In early May, over 4,000 people a day were getting vaccinated. That number dropped by half in late May and early June. An average of about 1,000 doses per day were administered between June 10th and the 15th.
The sagging vaccine numbers suggest that not many West Virginians who were reluctant to get their shots have been motivated by Justice’s enticements. As of yesterday, close to 200,000 West Virginians had signed up for the drawing, but some of those—maybe most—are individuals who received their shots before Justice announced the incentives.
Overall, 46 percent of the state’s total population, and 53 percent of those 12 and older, have been vaccinated.
Experts believe between 60 to 90 percent of the population would have to be vaccinated for herd immunity, so we still have a ways to go.
Meanwhile, health officials are growing concerned about a new variant of the virus. The Delta variant, which emerged in India, has reached the United States and is now responsible for ten percent of the new cases.
The Centers for Disease Control has identified it as a “variant of concern.” This strain of the virus spreads faster and increases the risk of hospitalization. It will eventually reach here.
Governor Justice has dedicated much of the last 16 months to the pandemic. Understandably he, and all West Virginians, want to put Covid behind us.
However, this novel virus continues to mutate, making it extremely difficult to eradicate. The best defense remains more vaccinations. Otherwise, the celebrations this weekend will have been premature.