Community, Healthcare, Latest News, State Government

Justice: COVID surge may be peaking; new Saving Our Care program will help hospitals stay afloat

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice and his team believe the Delta-charged COVID surge may have peaked, or nearly so. Following a Monday morning “breakfast summit,” they announced a plan to help keep COVID-strained hospitals and nursing facilities afloat.

“Our hospitals are on the verge of being overrun,” Justice said. They could begin rationing care, though they’re not there yet.

The new plan, called Saving Our Care, is based on experience from earlier in the pandemic when hospitals cut back on elective procedures to keep space open and staff available for COVID patients, and saw significant revenue drops as a result. If that happens again, “They are really going to destroy the economics of the hospital.”

Saving Our Care will allow facilities to apply for reimbursement for lost revenue and money spent for staffing needs — including contract nursing — Justice said. More details will be supplied at subsequent briefings.

During one of the lighter moments of the briefing, Justice said Joint Interagency Task Force Director Gen. James Hoyer had predicted the current surge would peak Sept. 20. And Monday’s numbers suggested that may be near the mark,

Monday’s active cases stood at 21,490, well down from Thursday’s peak of 29,744. Hospitalizations dipped just a hair, from Saturday’s peak of 957 to 955 Monday. ICU cases were at a new high, 292, but ventilator cases fell from 168 to 164.

Justice, Hoyer and COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh all emphasized that if we are at the peak of active cases, the fall in the numbers hospitalizations and deaths will lag behind anywhere from two-to-six weeks, which drives the need for Saving Our Care. The program is expected to run four-to-six months and will use federal funds. If they run out of money, Justice said he’ll call the Legislature into special session to appropriate more.

On Monday afternoon, the West Virginia Hospital Association released a statement praising the Saving Our Care plan. “This decision will help our hospitals manage the financial challenges of responding to the pandemic, including the escalating expenses and critical staffing needs they are currently experiencing. Ultimately, funding will help support our health care workers who have been on the frontlines of care for more than 19 months and help maintain the long-term stability of our healthcare system to care for all patients.”

Justice said that with the FDA putting a halt on President Biden’s plan to offer Pfizer vaccine boosters for anyone who’s six months out from the their second shot, West Virginia’s medical leaders want to continue researching antibody levels for those in the 50-64 age group. Those 65 and older are eligible for boosters

The over-50 population had seen the highest number of COVID hospitalizations and deaths, Marsh said, and they want to know how well-protected that 50-64 group is in order to make a case for boosters for them.

It wasn’t clear how that testing will unfold, though Hoyer said they’re starting in nursing homes.

WVU Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop attended Monday’s breakfast summit and appeared at the briefing to give some positive WVU vaccination news, which he’d related to the Board of Governors on Friday. WVU has no vaccine mandate but as of Friday at the Morgantown campus, 74.21% of staff, 91.64% of instructors, and 77.72% of students were vaccinated.

Because of the high vaccination rate, he said, COVID-related isolations and quarantines were well down from the same time last year: isolations down from about 375 to just over 100, and quarantines down from almost 1,000 to just under 200.

Marsh offered a positive outlook on Pfizer’s Monday announcement about vaccines for kids under 12.

Pfizer said testing of COVID-19 vaccines for kids ages 5-11 showed “the vaccine was safe, well-tolerated and showed robust neutralizing antibody responses.” Companies expect to submit their test results to the FDA and agencies around the world as soon as possible.

Marsh said the there’s been a 254% increase in COVID cases among kids under 12 as of last week. Many think that vaccines for ages 5-11 may be available by mid-to-late October.

Justice noted that among the 54 new deaths he read on Monday was a 23-year-old woman from Kanawha County. “We can stop it if we just get vaccinated.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp EMAIL