At Thursday’s press conference, Gov. Jim Justice and his COVID advisors continued to press West Virginians to get vaccinated, and specifically to get booster shots ahead of an expected winter surge.
With COVID czar Dr. Clay Marsh absent, it fell to Joint Interagency Task Force Director James Hoyer to outline how and why West Virginia is preparing for a difficult winter season.
“Our Rt value is now at 1.09 and continues to trend up. As we have told you before, that is a key indicator we watch that will lead to additional challenges for us as a state,” Hoyer said.
He cited hospitalizations reaching over 600 cases, as well as increases in ICU and ventilation cases as cause for concern. Hoyer also pointed at Wednesday’s daily hospital admissions of 82, saying any time daily admissions go over 60, “that puts our hospitals in a detrimental position.”
Hoyer announced that given increasing COVID cases, as well as concern over the state’s number of flu cases, Justice had directed the task force to run a tabletop exercise next week to plan for challenges the state’s hospital system will face.
“The unfortunate circumstances are that those who are unvaccinated and those who don’t get the booster dose, are going to potentially prevent others from getting treatment and care because of the challenges our hospitals will have. … One of the challenges we have is staffing, and staffing is not an issue that is easy to fix with qualified individuals,” he said.
In response to a question about reactivating St. Francis Hospital in Charleston as a surge center, Hoyer clarified that the state’s issue is not with bed availability, but with staffing.
“We right now have some hospitals that do have beds closed down because of availability of staff. As we’ve seen before in the first two surges, the unfortunate circumstance is this is a national issue. We are competing nationally for staffing,” he said.
Hoyer and Justice both stressed the importance of booster shots throughout the press conference, but also added emphasis to the need for flu vaccines.
Justice took time to clarify the details of the latest vaccine incentive program, “Do it for BabyDog: Senior Center Edition.” Any West Virginian over 50, regardless of where they received a booster shot, will qualify for the reward — a $50 VISA prepaid gift card. However, only booster shots administered after Dec. 7 will be eligible.
“This program is meant to encourage people to get across the finish line and get the booster shot,” he said.
Justice ended a shorter-than-normal press conference by lauding West Virginia’s early vaccine distribution efforts before asking and answering the question, “What’s going on now?”
“West Virginia is a very, very, very conservative state, and in a lot of situations people can get afraid, and people are somewhat leery of the federal government, and in my book, you probably should be,” he said.
Justice went on to say that the federal vaccine mandate, which he characterized as a threat to unvaccinated people, made uncertain or unwilling West Virginians, “more difficult to get past the finish line.”
“But with that, I absolutely believe in all my heart that the only thing we have to combat this thing today, is to be vaccinated,” Justice said, before calling the choice to not get a booster “a mistake,” and announcing the birth of his granddaughter.