CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Monday urged more people in his state to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and made a plea for residents to trust medical experts.
The Republican said more than 75% of residents age 65 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, but he has a goal of at least 85% coverage. The state opened up vaccine eligibility to all residents 16 and older last month.
“We’re constantly looking for arms to put vaccines in,” Justice said at his regularly scheduled coronavirus news briefing. More than 90% of total doses currently in the state have been administered.
About 37% of West Virginia’s 1.78 million residents have received at least one vaccine dose, state data show. Nearly 26% are fully inoculated against the illness that has killed 2,745 people in the state so far.
Justice addressed people who may be holding out on rolling up their sleeves: “You may be sitting there and thinking, ‘Well, now that there’s been a bunch of people to get vaccinated, I can slide by and just not get vaccinated.’”
“Oh, what a chance you’re taking,” he added, mentioning the danger of coronavirus variants that are more infectious and deadly.
The county home to West Virginia University in Morgantown announced Monday that it has nearly 200 identified cases of coronavirus variants. Officials in Monongalia County said there are 164 cases of the California variant and 32 cases of the U.K. variant.
“These variants of concern are both more infectious, and the U.K. variant is associated with an increased risk of death,” Dr. Lee Smith, the county’s health officer, said in a statement.
Confirmed positive virus cases in the state dropped 1% in the past week after falling 5% the previous week. Active cases hit 7,470 on Sunday, the highest since Feb. 26. Virus-related hospitalizations rose to 271 on Friday, the latest date available. Hospitalizations peaked at 818 on Jan. 5, then bottomed out at 151 on March 12.
Justice made a plea for continued mask wearing, saying “they are for all that we know a life saver.” A statewide mandate remains in effect, while most restrictions on businesses and public life have been lifted.
“We have got to listen to our medical experts,” he said.
Associated Press writer John Raby contributed to this report.