Jim Justice of West Virginia says more COVID deaths could unfortunately lead to unvaccinated shots
While West Virginia reported 31 new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said additional deaths from the virus could motivate more people to get vaccinated. Thursday’s deaths brought the total statewide death toll since the start of the pandemic to 5,336.
At a press conference Thursday, Justice read the ages and home counties of the state’s residents who most recently died from COVID-19. After reading the age and county of a 22-year-old from Lincoln County, the governor briefly interrupted his reading and shook his head.
“It’s a 22-year-old you’ve lost,” he said. “It’s really not good. It’s really sad.”
Justice said he did not support government-mandated vaccines or masking because they can only strengthen people’s opinions against the measures. He reiterated that belief at the press conference on Thursday, but added that he hopes the unvaccinated will decide to heed the state’s exhortations and protect those around them from the virus.
But if the state’s calls for vaccinations and the desire to protect loved ones aren’t enough encouragement for some, they may be motivated to get vaccinated “if a bunch of more people die,” Justice said.
“We don’t want that,” he added.
A COVID-19 outbreak since Christmas has taken confirmed daily cases in West Virginia to levels not seen in three months, and health officials on Thursday expressed concern that New Year’s meetings could make the situation worse.
The state reported 1,908 positive cases on Wednesday, the most for a single day since a record 1,979 confirmed cases were reported on September 23. Daily confirmed cases have more than tripled since Monday, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Statewide, active cases reached 11,017 on Thursday. This is the highest point since 11,223 on October 9. Active cases have risen steadily since falling to a 3-month low at 4,500 on November 25.
Dr Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, told the press conference that the spread of the Omicron variant in the state is around three weeks behind the country as a whole, the variant being detected in about 15% of West Virginia cases. He noted that Omicron can affect even people who have been vaccinated and boosted. However, vaccines and boosters help protect people from the most serious consequences of COVID-19, he said.
“This variant is spreading… faster than any other respiratory virus we’ve seen, really, in our lifetime,” Marsh said.
Justice has urged West Virginia to get tested for the virus if they are around someone who tests positive or if they start to feel sick. He also said people in situations where they are reunited with strangers should “wear a mask; that’s okay.”
Justice also encouraged those who could to donate blood. And he noted that pandemic rental assistance is still available.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.