CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia leaders cautioned residents to continue taking the coronavirus seriously as the state witnesses a slight bump in deaths and hospitalizations.
Hospitalizations went up by 35 patients in two days to 190 on Wednesday. There have also been 34 new deaths reported this week so far. Outbreaks at churches grew to seven places across five counties.
“We got to be really cautious,” said Republican Gov. Jim Justice at a coronavirus briefing. “All across America, we’re starting to see this thing heat back up in different areas.”
The word of caution comes despite the governor choosing to lift capacity limits earlier this month at bars, restaurants and businesses and allow social gatherings of up to 100 people.
A statewide mask mandate remains in effect. “We absolutely have made the right decision about continuing to wear our mask, and not just jump … to make a political statement or a macho move,” Justice said.
After weeks of seemingly declining coronavirus death, the state’s progress was dealt a setback when the governor revealed last week that 165 deaths went unreported by health facilities. He said most of the deaths were dated December and January, during the peak in fatalities.
“For many people, I’m worried that they’re starting to let their guard down a little bit,” the state’s coronavirus czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, said.
The state opened vaccine eligibility to all residents aged 16 and older with underlying medical conditions this week. They include people with asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, intellectual disabilities, autoimmune disorders and more. Pregnant residents are also eligible and the caretakers of those with some diseases.
Essential workers of all ages are also now eligible for appointments. Anyone can pre-register to be notified of an open slot. Officials said about 26,000 new people are signing up a week. The governor has urged more people to take the vaccine.
Justice said that all school employees 50 and over will be vaccinated by the end of the week. He said 58% of all residents 65 and over have received a shot.
Marsh has said the state may be able to open up vaccine appointments to all residents earlier than President Joe Biden’s nationwide goal of May 1.
In total, nearly 397,000 people in the state are partially vaccinated, 22% of the population. About 13.8% of residents are fully inoculated against the illness that has killed 2,565 in the state so far.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.