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Jim Justice_01

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice discusses the COVID-19 vaccine during a briefing Feb. 12, 2021.

The new delta variant of the COVID-19 virus has reached West Virginia, and most Mountain State residents probably don’t care.

Is this bad? We’ll have to wait and see.

At his virtual COVID briefing Tuesday, Gov. Jim Justice said about 1 million state residents have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. That’s nearly two-thirds of residents ages 12 and up. Some of those have received the one-dose vaccine, while some have received one dose of the two-dose vaccine.

“If you’re out there in West Virginia, and you’re not vaccinated today, what’s the downside?” Justice asked. “If all of us were vaccinated, do you not believe that less people would die? If you’re not vaccinated, you’re part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”

While the number of confirmed cases of the delta variant has remained steady at 12 for a week, people should not get overconfident that the virus has been contained, Dr. Clay Marsh said.

Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s COVID-19 czar, said during the briefing that the lack of new cases probably means new cases of the variant have not yet been documented.

Marsh said Missouri has been hit hard by the delta variant. It had a 35% increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations over the Fourth of July weekend, while the delta variant accounts for nearly 100% of all new COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom, he said.

Unvaccinated West Virginians have a small window of opportunity to get their shots before the state experiences an all but inevitable spike in delta variant cases, Marsh said.

Appalachians can be a stubborn lot, and that stubbornness is showing in their refusal to be vaccinated. Despite weekly news conferences, a lottery and other attempts at persuasion, a segment of the state’s population refuses to get their shots. Some don’t trust a vaccine that was developed so quickly, while others don’t believe the COVID threat was real to begin with.

It seems there’s always a new variant that could be an Armageddon, but those variants have yet to cause enough infections in West Virginia to send more people to vaccination sites.

It’s probably noteworthy that Justice is still holding these news conferences virtually. He and his staff are not allowing reporters or photographers to attend in person, where there could be transmission of disease. Or, more likely, reporters would be able to ask followup questions without being cut off by the news conference’s handlers. That allows Justice to dodge direct answers to questions the public wants answered, whether it’s about the delta variant or another COVID-related matter.

This one-way conversation does little to assure reluctant West Virginians that vaccinations are safe and necessary.

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