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Hoyer provides update on omicron booster; Justice touts building lakes for flood control and mourns death of 13-year-old from COVID

MORGANTOWN — The omicron booster and lake-building were the primary themes of Tuesday’s COVID briefing, but Gov. Jim Justice opened on a tragic note.

Among the 23 new COVID-related deaths Justice read was a 13-year-old girl from Nicholas County. “This is the youngest COVID death that we’ve had so far in West Virginia. It’s just terrible,” he said.

He came back to that at the end, saying the state’s 7,253 COVID deaths are all sad, but, “It takes on an absolutely different level of sadness when you think we’ve lost a 13-year-old.”

Joint Interagency Task Force director Gen. James Hoyer provided the update on the new booster. It’s referred to as a “bivalent” booster because it targets both the original COVID virus plus the omicron strains — BA.1, BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5.

Pfizer announced on Monday it’s applied to the FDA for emergency use authorization for the booster. CNN reported that the federal government has purchased 105 million bivalent vaccines from Pfizer and another 66 million from Moderna, whose EUA is expected to follow Pfizer’s.

The CDC would then need to add its approval to the FDA’s before they go out.

Hoyer said 87.2% of the state’s cases are now BA.5. He’s held an all-county call with health officials to update them. The JIATF placed its first order for the Pfizer vaccine on Monday and will place another Aug. 29 — next Monday.

Once the vaccine is approved, he said, priority boosters will go to long-term care facilities, residents over 65, the immunocompromised, healthcare workers and first responders. The online COVID vaccine calculator will be updated so residents can check their eligibility.

“We have no indication that we will have any challenges with the availability of that booster going forward,” he said.

Public Health Commissioner Ayne Amjad said the booster is just that — a booster. Residents will need their initial two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine before they get the bivalent booster.

Tuesday’s COVID numbers were 2,632 active cases, 811 new cases, 340 hospitalized, 48 in ICUs and 16 on ventilators.

Hoyer said the JIATF held its tabletop planning exercise Monday and the critical number for hospitalizations remains at 500, based on the season, patient flow and staffing issues.

Justice announced that the Mountaineer Rental Assistance Program will end Friday. No applications will be accepted after 11:59 p.m.

Justice took a question on his plans to deal with flooding, as he was set to tour flood-stricken Kanawha County communities after the briefing.

“West Virginia needs to build lakes, lots of them,” he said. They would help with energy generation, tourism and flood control.

But that’s a too-big idea and government agencies drag their feet on permitting and do nothing. “So basically, it goes nowhere.”

We can level off mountain tops for people to live, he said, but no one wants to live on them, and mountaintops have their own issues in winter. So people choose to live in level spots, which feels safe, and those spaces are rare.

Moving forward on lakes would move the state “off the chart,” but government agencies will stand in the way. Building just one would take years. “But if we build one, at least that’s one.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp