CHARLESTON — The latest wave of COVID-19 in West Virginia hasn’t quite hit its crest yet, state health and government officials warned Friday.
With daily testing rates triple what they were a month ago and a mask mandate in place, Gov. Jim Justice said West Virginia has not been an exemption for the nationwide spike in new COVID-19 cases throughout the United States heading into the winter holiday season.
He and health officials took another opportunity Friday to encourage people to celebrate Thanksgiving in a safe manner, meaning that some families may have to put their traditions on hold for a year or use the pandemic as a time to begin new traditions in a smaller setting.
“I truly believe that it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Justice said during his COVID-19 news briefing Friday. “Thanksgiving is around the corner. I surely hope and pray that you’ll be safe in being with your loved ones and your families, and at the same time you may very well be smart to do at least some of it on a virtual basis.”
Justice gave his remarks one day after the United States again hit a new single-day record for new COVID-19 cases, with more than 185,000 new cases being diagnosed Thursday.
In West Virginia, 27 people died from the virus between Justice’s last briefing on Wednesday and his Friday morning briefing.
In the 24 hours before the briefing, 1,081 West Virginians tested positive for the virus, meaning there have been 6,806 new positive coronavirus cases in West Virginia in the past seven days, Justice said.
An average of 837 people per day are testing positive for the virus in West Virginia, said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar.
West Virginia’s population is a little more than 1.8 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Throughout the state, there are a total of 12,177 active cases, with contact tracing taking place in each case, and Justice asked West Virginians to imagine how difficult that work must be.
A total of 402 people were hospitalized throughout the state for the virus, with 120 of them requiring care in intensive care units, according to data provided during the briefing.
More and more West Virginians are getting tested for the virus, with 16,067 people getting tested Thursday, Justice said. This time last month, Justice said testing levels in the state had been closer to 2,600 and 2,700 each day.
Justice and Marsh told West Virginians to plan on wearing their masks and getting tested regularly until a vaccine for the virus is widely available.
“It’s time for us to do better work,” said Marsh, who also is the vice president and executive dean for Health Sciences at West Virginia University. “That better work is, right now, moving to all of us being committed to wear our masks, and when you wear a mask, wear it over your nose. Wear it over your mouth. If you don’t wear it over your nose, it doesn’t really work.”
In other news during Friday’s news conference, Marsh said people who traditionally go out to catch up with friends and family the night before Thanksgiving should refrain from doing so.
Thanksgiving Eve often includes get-togethers at local bars, an environment, like so many others, that people should be avoiding during the pandemic, he said, but if they absolutely decide they must go, they should practice consistent mask-wearing, only taking their masks down to take a drink.
“Right now is a time when we really don’t want people to go into indoor environments where they may be in a point where they are not able to manage that effective strategy,” Marsh said.
In other news, Justice said if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants pharmaceutical company Pfizer emergency authorization to distribute its COVID-19 vaccine, West Virginia’s Vaccine Advisory Task Force is prepared to distribute the vaccine quickly to vulnerable populations, including front line health care workers, critical infrastructure workers and older West Virginians.
When asked how many people would have to be vaccinated until masks wouldn’t be required anymore, Marsh said between 70% and 75% of the population would have to be immune to the virus to get to that point.
“I think everybody’s ready to take off their mask,” Marsh said. “I think it’s important to be extra diligent as we start to roll out vials of the vaccine.”