CHARLESTON — Although health officials say the threat of another COVID surge is real and statistics show a plateau with cold weather and the holiday season here, vaccination rates remain relatively stagnant.
“I don’t know what else to do,” Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday during his pandemic briefing. “I have tried everything I know to do.”
Justice said he has been on the road, visiting schools, speaking, promoting vaccines with the Do It For Babydog sweepstakes and “we are winning people over.”
But the vaccination rate for residents age 40 and below remain low, especially in the 5 to 18 age range which is below 40 percent.
“I think what we are doing is working,” he said, but all ideas about how to better get the message out are accepted. “We are doing anything and everything I know we can possibly do.”
The comments came after Justice had read a list of 92 more COVID-related deaths in the state, bringing the total to 4,817.
That prompted more pleas from him for people to get vaccinated and to make sure they get booster shots when they are six months out from the Pfizer and Moderna shots and two months out from the one-dose Johnson & Johnson.
Justice and other health experts have said this is now a pandemic for the unvaccinated with the vast majority of deaths among the unvaccinated.
“The only way in the world we are going to stop this that we know of is to get vaccinated,” he said. “You surely can’t think this (death toll) is tolerable … Surely we can’t put up with this. Surely we can’t just sit back and say this is the new normal…”
Retired Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, director of the Joint InterAgency Task Force, reiterated the need for residents to take action and get vaccinated to face the COVID crisis.
Hoyer said if that many people were dying every day in mine accidents, traffic crashes or other disasters, “we would be making monumental efforts to go forward and to reduce that immediately.”
“Vaccinations and boosters are the only way to address this immediately,” he said of the pandemic.
Justice said Germany is contemplating shutting down because of COVID and “there’s all kinds of talk about a fifth surge.”
“We know what it’s been like to shut down,” he said, adding that everyone also knows what getting the vaccine was like. “We’ve got an opportunity to stop this thing right now.”
All COVID statistics have plateaued and some are rising again, including in hospitals.
On Wednesday, state hospitals reported 512 COVID patients with 183 in ICUs and 104 on ventilators, all increases in recent days after plateauing.
The state also reported 6,754 active cases, a number that stopped falling at around 6,000 and has been creeping back up.
Justice also cautions that with people going indoors because it is cold and for holiday gatherings, the likelihood of more spread of the Delta variant increases, which is what happened last winter and resulted in the January surge.
That could happen again, he said, but this time mainly impacting the unvaccinated.
— Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org