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Hospitalization data, preventative measures discussed in final press conference of the year

Gov. Jim Justice and his advisers held the last COVID-19 press conference of 2021 Thursday morning, presenting a concerning outlook for the Mountain State entering 2022, with both omicron and delta poised to surge.

“We are getting ready to see the storm come to West Virginia as it has come to many other states,” COVID czar Dr. Clay Marsh said.

He pointed toward a national average of 301,000 new cases per day this week, calling it the highest transmission week in the pandemic’s history. Later in the day, The New York Times and other outlets reported that the United States had broken its own record Wednesday, with 488,988 new cases across the nation.

Marsh announced that new genetic sequencing data from West Virginia’s state laboratory showed omicron increasing from 3% of all cases in the state to 15%. That follows the national trend, and implies that West Virginia’s incidence of omicron could jump next week.

He went on to urge caution during today’s holiday celebrations including being careful who you’re around, upgrading to high-quality masks, and testing.

Public Health Commissioner Ayne Amjad emphasized the need for caution around New Year’s celebrations.

“If you plan on celebrating with your family and friends, it would be a good idea to get tested … Also if you’re not feeling well, to maybe not join the event if possible. Just be safe out there for the upcoming new year,” she said.

As in Tuesday’s press conference, attention turned to surging hospitalizations among children. Marsh previously reported a 35% increase in hospitalizations with children testing positive over the last week, but amended that number Thursday.

“We have also seen that in our lowest vaccinated part of our population, our children, that there has been about a 58% increase in hospitalizations over the last week to two weeks in hospitals around the country,” he said. 

Marsh did note that the Food and Drug Administration is looking at approving vaccine boosters for young children aged 5 to 12, as well as reducing the time period for boosters from six months to five months after the second dose for everyone else.

When asked why child hospitalization rates were not being made public in West Virginia, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Bill Crouch said daily reports from the hospital association can be difficult to interpret, but also pose a risk to privacy.

“We don’t get (the) age of the patients in the hospitals. Hospitals, especially smaller hospitals that have small numbers of cases, maybe one or two, could be identified … We don’t have as much information as you may think with regard to hospitalization. That information is proprietary information of the hospital association.,” he said.

Crouch assured his team would continue to try and provide all the information available to the public.

Another reporter asked if it wasn’t time to enact more measures other than vaccination, given the dire warnings Marsh and Joint Interagency Task Force Director James Hoyer have made for weeks now regarding the impending, massive case surge.

“It’s a difficult decision. I do not believe in mandating people from the standpoint of their freedoms and everything that we have in life. It’s made us what we are,” Justice said.

Justice finished the press conference by praising his advisers, and wished everyone a Happy New Year.

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