CHARLESTON — The continuing increase in COVID-19 cases in West Virginia may indicate the surge the rest of the nation has been experiencing has reached the Mountain State.
That was discussed in Friday’s online briefing by Gov. Jim Justice, who also announced an increase in tiers for the Public Employees Insurance Agency to keep state workers from getting higher premiums and deductibles as a result of raises approved by the Legislature.
James Hoyer, director of the state’s Joint Interagency Task Force responding to the virus, said earlier this week that the recent spread was likely linked to spring break and other recent travels. During Friday’s online briefing by Justice, Hoyer said officials believe the state is “starting to see the front end, for us, of that national surge.”
That’s been attributed to more transmissible subvariants of the omicron mutation of the virus. Hoyer said the most recent count of the BA.2.12.1 subvariant was not immediately available Friday but he would provide an update next week.
Hoyer said the coronavirus’ transmission rate recently has been between 1 and 1.1. Any number higher than 1 indicates it is replicating and spreading more rapidly.
“We know that coming out of that, we will see some additional challenges over the next few weeks,” Hoyer said.
Over the last week, hospitalizations have remained between 100 and 130.
“The hospital numbers continue to move up slightly, but remain relatively stable,” Hoyer said.
West Virginia has had 6,893 deaths attributed to the virus since the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. They are included in the 1 million deaths marked by the United States this week.
Hoyer tried to put that number in perspective by sharing that the 10 American wars with the highest number of combat casualties combined — from World War II to the Mexican-American War — totaled 659,287 deaths.
“You would still have to add 340,713 to that number to reach the million people we’ve lost to COVID in just the last two years,” he said.
Justice noted the sobering statistics while trying to look at some positive aspects, including that the state had recorded just two deaths since Monday’s briefing (nine others from earlier in the year were discovered as a result of an ongoing data reconciliation with death certificates) and that more residents continued to get their first dose of a COVID vaccine, including 142 Thursday.
“How many of those people now are not going to end up on this list?” Justice said, indicating the people whose deaths had been attributed to the virus.
The governor touched on a number of non-COVID-related topics, including his direction that PEIA tiers be increased by $2,700 so no workers receiving the upcoming 5% raise would be forced into a new tier and have to pay more. Without the change, more than 15,000 state employees would have been “adversely impacted,” according to a release from the governor’s office.
Justice said he has pledged not to increase PEIA premiums.
Earlier in the day, Justice issued a proclamation declaring Friday Children of Fallen Patriots Day. The day is recognized across the country “to honor the children whose lives were forever altered because of their parents’ service to this nation and our state,” said Ted Diaz, secretary of the Department of Veterans Assistance.