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Marsh says new variant coming


CHARLESTON — State coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh says it’s only a matter of time before the new BA.5 subvariant of COVID-19 appears in West Virginia.

“The newest mutant variant in the Omicron family that has now become the dominant variant in the country will soon be in West Virginia,” Marsh said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

Marsh called BA.5 an “amazingly infectious variant” that maintains a few characteristics that make it problematic.

“It seems to bind better to the targets on our body’s cells, which allows it to be taken up by the body more rapidly more like the delta variant than previous omicron variants,” Marsh said. “It has a very high level of immune escape, so it’s able to avoid the immune response from previous infections.”

The state Department of Human Resources on Monday reported 2,858 active cases, an uptick from around 2,100 on Friday. There were 22 new deaths.

Marsh predicted there could be an uptick in cases, but not for a while.

“The variant spreads us a little bit later than they spread to big metropolitan areas, so we absolutely are starting to see some of the early impacts of the BA.5 variant and we do anticipate that hospitalization numbers may go up,” he said.

West Virginia’s immunity is up because there hasn’t been a large spike in deaths, Marsh said.

“The fact that it’s not driving the number of deaths that we had seen in the BA.1 omicron variant is a testament to the impact of our immunity,” he said.

Some West Virginians have been re-infected with COVID-19, Marsh said, and it’s not because vaccines don’t work.

“Most vaccines are not made or not able to prevent people from getting infected with a particular virus or bacteria. They’re really there to keep people from getting severely ill, going to the hospital or dying,” Marsh said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations were not updated on the state’s dashboard as of Monday morning. Friday’s update lists 285 patients in West Virginia.

Gov. Jim Justice will have a COVID briefing at 10:30 a.m. today.

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