June Leffler Published

“A Long Two Years,” State Officials Reflect On Pandemic

Jim Justice masked after COVID.jpg

In March of 2020, the state reported its first case of COVID-19 and declared a state of emergency. Two years later, Gov. Jim Justice reflected on the toll of the pandemic.

Justice said he could not have fathomed the loss of life that COVID-19 would wage on the state. More than 6,400 West Virginians have died. Still, Justice says things could have been worse.

“It could have been a catastrophe beyond possible belief,” Justice said. “I really want to just take just a second to thank all those that are out there that really did incredible work. You ran to the fire, did you not? All of our first responders, all those in the health community all across the board, the people that worked at the grocery stores. All West Virginians kept pulling the rope together.”

Federal and state officials are starting to imagine a post-pandemic landscape. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased masking guidelines for most of the country, though the federal agency still recommends most West Virginians mask up for now due to “high” caseloads and hospitalizations.

State lawmakers vowing to get things back to normal are considering revoking all masking rules in public schools.

The state National Guard will also pull more than 300 service members from hospitals next week. 

Retired Maj. Gen. Jim Hoyer said health providers are even requesting less antiviral pills and other COVID-19 treatments, though he doesn’t want to remove the infrastructure already in place.

“We are going to continue to expand the locations where both antibodies and antivirals can be made available… so that if we do need it in the future, we will have broader places for individuals to receive that treatment,” Hoyer said.

COVID-19 cases have plummeted following the omicron surge. Average daily cases have fallen 88 percent in the past five weeks.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are now where they were before omicron hit. However, with more than 400 COVID-19 patients, West Virginia has the highest rate in the U.S. of people in hospital beds due to the coronavirus.

Deaths are not stemming off so fast. More than 600 deaths have been reported in the state in just the past month.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.