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Gov. Justice and State Medical Experts Discuss Omicron Variant, Continue to Urge Boosters

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – During Tuesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice and state medical experts extensively discussed the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which was identified in South Africa last week.

“The Omicron variant is a very concerning variant because it has a really large number of mutations,” State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said. “Whether this variant turns out to be one that outcompetes the Delta variant and becomes the most common variant in the United States, or in West Virginia, we don’t know yet. But what we do know is that COVID remains very active and it is ultimately important for us to make sure that we are vaccinating all of our population fully and boosting the part of our population that is eligible.”

Dr. Marsh went on to say that the potential threat of the Omicron variant, coupled with the state’s hospital capacity already being “half full” from existing COVID-19 cases, should highlight the critical importance of West Virginians either getting their initial vaccinations or their booster shot.

“The time is now for all of us to act very aggressively; to protect ourselves, protect our hospitals, and protect everybody in West Virginia,” Dr. Marsh added. “Particularly for West Virginians 50 and older, it’s so important that you go get vaccinated.”

“This current surge is still taking a major toll in our hospitals right now,” Gov. Justice said. “What’s going to happen when winter comes? What’s going to happen if we go into another surge?”

“You need to run to the fire right now and get your booster shot,” Gov. Justice continued.

The Governor and Jim Hoyer, Director of the West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force on COVID-19, noted that even with over 222,000 booster doses now having been administered across the state, there remains a substantial drop off between the population who have received at least one vaccine dose versus the number that have been boosted.

“If you’re over 50 years of age and you made the decision to get your shots, how can you not get the booster? How in the world can you take this level of chance?” Gov. Justice said. “We know without any question that their immune systems are now tremendously reduced from when they got their second vaccine. Those people are exposed beyond belief.”

“West Virginians over age 50 are not taking the booster dose fast enough based on what Dr. Marsh is describing, related to the challenges that we face,” Hoyer said. “West Virignians, particularly over the age of 50, we have got to get booster doses and we have got to get booster doses quickly.”

The FDA and the CDC both recently recommended booster doses for all Americans ages 18 and older, provided that at least six months have passed since receiving their two-dose Pfizer/Moderna vaccine series or that at least two months have passed since receiving their one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

On Tuesday, Gov. Justice reported that there are now 5,800 active cases of COVID-19 statewide; down by 954 cases since the Governor’s previous briefing on Wednesday last week.

The active case count is down overall by 23,944 cases since peaking in mid-September, a drop of 80.5% in that time.

The number of hospitalizations is now 561; up by 43 over the past week. Since peaking at 1,012, hospitalizations have dropped by 451 (44.6%).

The number of patients in ICUs is now 181; up by 4 over the past week. Since peaking at 296, the number of patients in ICUs has dropped overall by 115 (38.9%).

The number of patients on ventilators is now 96; down by 6 over the past week. Since peaking at 195, the number of patients on ventilators has dropped overall by 99 (50.8%).

The County Alert System map now features 3 green counties, 6 yellow counties, 6 gold counties, 23 orange counties, and 17 red counties.

Gov. Justice also reported that, per the West Virginia Department of Education, there are currently 21 school outbreaks in 17 counties with 395 confirmed cases.

Additionally Tuesday, Gov. Justice took time out of his remarks about COVID-19 to remind all West Virginia hunters that the WVDNR’s first ever “Big Buck Photo Contest” is officially underway.

Hunters have until Dec. 27 to take a photo of themselves with a buck harvested during a 2021 hunting season, write a short account of the hunt, and upload the photo to the Big Buck Photo Contest entry form.

The contest is open both to West Virginia residents and nonresidents and includes two divisions: a Youth Division for hunters 17 and younger, and an Adult Division for hunters 18 and older. Five participants from each division will win one of several prizes, including a free lifetime West Virginia hunting license, gift cards to Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s, or a two-night stay at a State Forest cabin.