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COVID survivor shares testimonial during governor’s press briefing

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice broke with routine to open his press briefing Monday morning, preempting the regular reading of the latest COVID deaths with two other pieces of business.

First, Justice acknowledged the passing of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, remembering him as, “a man that led by kindness and logic and sternness and truth and trust.”

Then, Justice introduced Christopher Holmes, 44, of Sissonville, to share his experience having and recovering from COVID-19 earlier this year.

Holmes related how in June, he and everyone in his household contracted COVID, leading to his hospitalization and intubation. 

“I was there for 80 days. I had to take a total of 160 shots in my stomach for blood clots,” Holmes said. 

“I had to be on a feeding tube. I lost 110 pounds … all my muscle, I had to learn to walk again,” he said. “Everything you don’t even think about doing, I had to learn to do again. Couldn’t go up steps, couldn’t walk. I had to go to rehab, I’m still rehabbing. It’s a long battle, and I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through.”

Holmes’ daughter was the only family member spared by the illness, which he credited to her being the only one to be vaccinated at the time.

“I was determined not to get the shot. My family was determined not to get the shot. I didn’t want my daughter to get the shot, because I heard rumors about not being able to have kids,” Holmes recalled. “If the roles were reversed, and she was laid up in that hospital like me, could you live with yourself?”

After Holmes’ testimonial, Justice read out West Virginia’s 28 COVID deaths from over the weekend, bringing the state’s total to 4,134. Major pandemic indicators such as active cases and hospitalizations continued to trend down, approaching or dipping under the previous records set during January’s surge.

Justice was then joined by representatives of the Jobs and Hope and Gamechangers programs to discuss their Change their Holiday initiative. The initiative aims, “to provide families that are in recovery a complete holiday, right down to the turkey dinner and everything else,” Justice said. The program will accept donations through Nov. 26. 

In his comments, Dr. Clay Marsh highlighted advancements at the Food and Drug Administration last week toward approving Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots. Both, as well as Pfizer vaccines for children ages 5-11, must receive CDC approval before being released to the public.

Marsh also addressed the potential for Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients to be approved to take mRNA boosters from Pfizer or Moderna.

“We’re also waiting to see if the mixing of vaccines will be recommended. … In the Johnson & Johnson trials, two doses of Johnson & Johnson gave a three- to five-fold increase in antibodies,” he said. “A second dose of Pfizer with a first dose of Johnson & Johnson gave about a 35-times number of antibodies, and a second dose with Moderna gave a 76-fold increase in antibody production. So we’re waiting to see that.”

In a shortened question-and-answer segment, two questions from the press pertained to this winter’s flu season and the safety of taking flu and COVID vaccines simultaneously. Marsh and West Virginia State Medical Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad recommended renewed use of mitigation measures, including mask wearing, social distancing and regular testing, on top of vaccination.

“As we’ve said several times on this brief, it is safe and even recommended for people if you’re getting your COVID vaccination … we would suggest getting a flu shot at the same time,” Marsh said in response to one question.

“We are always concerned about colder weather that brings people together indoors,” he said in response to another question. “The most important protection that we can give is through full vaccination.”

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