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New cases trending down

There wasn’t much new on the agenda during Gov. Jim Justice’s COVID-19 briefing Monday — the pleas to be vaccinated and boosted continued, amid omicron’s still-strong hold on the state.

While the number of new cases is beginning to trend downward, Dr. Clay Marsh said, experts know from looking at other regions that doesn’t translate to fewer hospitalizations or deaths right away. The progression tends to go: case surge, followed by hospitalization surge, followed by mounting deaths.

However, there is some comfort to be taken.

“But, for past seven days we have seen a net reduction in new cases, which is encouraging,” Marsh said. He added that on Monday, the Rt factor — the rate at which the virus is spreading — sat at .97, the first time it’s been below 1 since omicron started to spike.

Despite the constant press to vaccinate and booster more people, Justice also announced he has joined the Republican governors of two other states — Bill Lee, of Tennessee, and Glenn Youngkin, of Virginia — to ask the White House for a waiver of its vaccine mandate for health care workers for the state’s rural hospitals.

“We hope it’s not a Hail Mary,” Justice said of the request, insisting he still urges anybody and everybody to get the vaccine — but that there are certain areas where people, including those who work in health care, will remain resistant. To let those unvaccinated workers go would add undue pressure to an already-stressed workforce at West Virginia’s more rural hospitals.

When asked whether they agreed with the request from a health care standpoint, Marsh and Dr. Ayne Amjad, commissioner of the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources, said it was a balancing act.

“You know, the governor is really articulating a very challenging problem that we have, related to staffing,” Marsh said, noting many health care workers have either left the profession, or are out with COVID-19 or isolating right now.

“And as we look at the really severe staffing shortages, I think the governor and the governors of Tennessee and Virginia, are trying to weigh that sort of risk-benefit ratio because of course we want to see as many people vaccinated and boosted as we possibly can, but that balance between making sure we can keep the doors open in these rural hospitals and making sure that everybody is fully vaccinated and boosted is a different challenge in rural areas. So I will certainly bow to the governor’s wisdom as the leader of the state to try to balance that.”

Amjad replied, “I think two years into this pandemic and us having the vaccine, in rural areas I think we face challenges that bigger cities don’t face, so I think we’re at a point where we have to make decisions that are going to suit rural areas that maybe bigger cities don’t see. So I think these are just decisions that we’re going to have to face and make.”

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