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Delta keeps rising; state leaders keep urging vaccination

MORGANTOWN — The Delta variant now accounts for 74% of all new COVID cases in West Virginia, up from just 10% in June, COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said Wednesday. “We are about to see the surge here. … We’re at a critical moment for this state, I believe.”

The Department of Health and Human Resources COVID dashboard showed 118 Delta cases in 31 counties Wednesday. Berkeley and Monongalia continue to top the state, with 24 and 17 cases, respectively.

All the data from around the world, Marsh said, shows the way to deal with Delta and all the variants to follow is vaccination. In fully vaccinated countries, hospitalizations and deaths go down even if the case numbers rise.

Joint Interagency Task Force Director James Hoyer reinforced Marsh’s message with some data titled, “Putting COVID Into Perspective.”

According to Johns Hopkins, the document says, 2,749 West Virginians had died of COVID at the time the data was put together (the number is now 2,956). That was 1.5 times the number of residents who died in accidents in 2017, more than 3 times the number who died from opioid overdoses in 2017, and more than 6 times the number who did from flu in 2017.

“Get vaccinated,” he said. The risk of not getting vaccinated is greater than that for those other categories.

Gov. Jim Justice said the state — led by WVU and Marshall University — is cooperating with the FDA and CDC to conduct a Booster Battlefield Assessment. People age 60 and up who were vaccinated six months ago or longer may volunteer to have their antibody levels checked to see if they need a booster.

At this point, a booster is not authorized by the FDA or CDC, Marsh said, but this national study is underway to see if boosters will be needed.

Marsh said they’re starting the study in nursing homes, where the first push to get the vulnerable elderly population began. Then they will expand the opportunity to others who meet the criteria. More information will follow.

Justice followed up on his Tuesday announcement about the extension of the Do It For Babydog campaign. The vaccine incentive lottery program was set to end Wednesday, but a surge of people signing up at the last minute caused a computer glitch. So the registration deadline is extended through midnight Sunday and the final drawing will be Tuesday, Aug. 10.

State School Superintendent Clayton Burch provided some back-to-school information. Some schools are starting next week; by Aug. 20, he said, 33 counties will have their schools up and running; and all 55 will be open by Aug. 28.

The Department of Education released its School Recovery and Guidance document Wednesday, covering mitigation procedures, mask guidance and other matters.

Local superintendents will make decisions on mask guidance, he said. “If you feel you need it, wear a mask.”

Schools will participate in a statewide “I Got Vaccinated WV” incentive competition, he said. The 12 schools — public or private — with the highest vaccination percentage will get $50,000 grants.

There will be no separate school color-coded map, he said. Local superintendents will continue to use the DHHR map and consult with local health departments to help guide their decisions about opening or closing.

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp