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Dr. Ayne Amjad

State health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad speaks via videoconference during a COVID-19 news briefing on Nov. 9, 2020. 

CHARLESTON — West Virginia health officials on Wednesday warned the United Kingdom variant of COVID-19 will make a significant impact in the state if young people do not get vaccinated at a higher rate.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar and vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University, said the medical community is seeing the COVID-19 pandemic go through a transition in the United States, where virus variants are making their presence known. Michigan, Minnesota and Florida are already being hit hard by the U.K. variant, he said.

“The concern about this particular virus is it is more infectious. It’s about 50% more likely to spread than the virus that started in China … and it’s also about 50% more lethal,” Marsh said.

In West Virginia, the U.K. variant has been found in 19 counties, totaling 142 cases, state health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said. The number has nearly tripled from just seven days ago, when 53 cases of the U.K. variant had been identified.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department detected the first case of the U.K. variant in Kanawha County on Wednesday, breaking the mold of where most prior cases had been found. Infections have mostly been in border counties, Amjad said, with Berkeley, Monongalia and Ohio counties reporting the most variant cases.

A virus that spreads faster and kills more people poses significant challenges for West Virginia, Marsh said. With the most vulnerable population in the country, Marsh said the climbing spread should signal the state is “not out of the woods yet.”

State officials urged younger West Virginians to get vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent the chance this variant becomes widespread. The age group driving these infections are 19 to 40 years old, Amjad said.

The California variant of COVID-19 has been found in about 160 West Virginians, Amjad said. This variant is not as lethal as the U.K. version, Marsh has said previously, but it spreads much faster.

Marsh noted that 24 West Virginians died of the virus in just the past two days, furthering the urgency for everyone to get vaccinated. State officials again urged older West Virginians to get vaccinated as well, as the virus has now killed 2,722 West Virginians.

Reach Joe Severino at joe.severino@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jj_severino on Twitter.

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