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With omicron growing, Justice urges West Virginians: ‘We’re not going to become numb’

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice took a slightly different twist in his Tuesday COVID briefing, addressing the burnout and seeming complacence among the populace even as a delta-omicron surge grows.

“Are we just numb to this?” he asked. “We should not accept that this is just not good and we’re just going to have to live with it being not good. We’re not to going to just become numb with this. We’re going to keep battling. We’re going to keep striving until this goes away.”

He returned to that a few minutes later: “The theme of this today should be, ‘We’re not going to become numb.’”

Active cases climbed from 15,015 on Monday to 15,911 on Tuesday. Hospital numbers dipped just a hair, from 721 to 716, but ICU and ventilator numbers rose: from 189 to 195 and from 114 to 118, respectively.

Justice said that 79 of the current cases are omicron, indicating that variant’s steady rise. “We have not seen the jump that’s coming. It’s going to get way worse than this,” he said.

COVID19 czar Dr. Clay Marsh said that across the U.S., the CDC reports 60% of new cases are omicron. It hasn’t yet spread to rural areas, such as West Virginia, which typically trends behind the rest of the country for surges, and some states haven’t seen their peak yet.

But Monday saw more than 1 million new COVID cases, he said, far surpassing the previous one-day high of 303,000.

And even though it may lead to less-serious illness in adults, he said, it has to be taken seriously because it’s far more infectious than delta and more seriously affects kids.

While delta attacks the lower airways where oxygen is exchanged, he said, omicron attacks the upper airways. Kids have smaller upper airways and are more susceptible to inflammation and airway narrowing with omicron. So far, West Virginia has only 11 children hospitalized with COVID, but they’re keeping tabs on that.

Joint Interagency Task Force Director James Hoyer addressed another aspect of the hospital numbers: the proportion of the unvaccinated. On Tuesday, the proportion of the unvaccinated in hospitals, in ICUs and on ventilators was 77.7%, 86.7% and 89%, respectively.

WVU has a surgery wait-list of more than 1,000, he said. “Unvaccinated West Virginians are delaying critical care for other fellow West Virginians,” he said.

Antibody and antiviral treatments are available, he said, but the national supply chain is not keeping up with demand. West Virginia regularly gets about half of what it requests. So it’s important to get vaccinated and to get the booster.

And, he said, don’t just get the vaccine for yourself, get it to protect others — to keep them healthy and to keep hospitals free to handle people who need care.

As hospitals prepare for the continuing surge, Justice said, the National Guard will have 37 combat medics undergoing recertification training this weekend to be ready to help cover hospital needs.

In addition, he said, he’s authorized the Guard to build its COVID task force to 600. Liaison officers will be going to hospitals to assess needs and 350 are being trained to go to the hospitals to assist.

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp