CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The number of deaths, people hospitalized and confirmed cases of the coronavirus in West Virginia trended downward last week as vaccinations continue apace.
The 119 virus-related deaths recorded last week in the state were a 41% drop from the previous week and the lowest since 109 deaths were reported in the week ending Dec. 6. The 597 people in the hospital for the virus Sunday were the lowest since 595 were hospitalized Nov. 30.
The 4,090 confirmed virus cases last week were the lowest since early November. In addition, last week marked the first time there has not been a record high number of weekly cases in successive weeks since early October.
“We are surprised that they are low,” said State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad. “We like to be hopeful. But, West Virginians, we still need to wear our masks, even after you’ve been vaccinated.”
Gov. Jim Justice said it would likely take 80% of the state’s 1.78 million population to be vaccinated and some time for the nation to catch up to achieve herd immunity.
About 9.3% of the population has received at least one of the two doses from the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. State data show more than 35,700 first doses were put in arms last week, exhausting the state’s stock of vaccines much faster than the rest of the nation.
“We’re not out of this yet,” Justice cautioned. “West Virginia you can’t drop your guard.”
The state debuted an online portal for residents to register for coronavirus vaccine appointments on Monday.
Justice says the new system that will help streamline vaccination efforts statewide launches Monday at www.vaccinate.wv.gov. The new website comes after complaints of long wait times to book a shot.
According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia is the first state to deploy the new system through Everbridge, a company that helps states notify residents in emergencies such as a hurricane, flood or fire.
Residents who don’t want to or can’t go online to set up appointments can still call a vaccination information line at 1-833-734-0965. They also can be signed up through their local distribution location.
State officials said they have discovered additional doses in vaccine vials, allowing them to report that the state has used 106.4% of its allocated first doses. Most of the additional doses came from the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, which is known to have shipped with surprise extra doses, but the one made by Moderna also has some, said James Hoyer, head of the state’s multi-agency coronavirus task force.
“It is not every single vial that you get the extra dose, but we are getting enough … that this is making a significant impact,” Hoyer said. Local health officials are being trained on using the extra dose, and a sixth syringe for that purpose has been added to the vaccination kits for health officials administering shots.
Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus czar, said the state has the capacity to administer 125,000 shots a week if the federal government can ship more doses. Currently the state is only receiving about 70,000 first and second doses a week.
“I’m screaming my head off,” Justice said about how the state is seeking more doses from the federal government.
More than 40,200 people are fully immunized after receiving the vaccine’s two doses, which are spaced out by a few weeks. That’s 2.3% of the population.
Currently, all residents 65 and older and some essential workers, such as health care personnel and teachers, are eligible for shots, although the state currently does not have enough vaccine doses for all senior citizens.
This story has been corrected to show that James Hoyer is the head of the state’s multi-agency coronavirus task force, not the head of the West Virginia National Guard.
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