Life may be returning to the way it was before the pandemic, but new strains of COVID-19 are just as contagious as the measles.
During Gov. Jim Justice’s regular COVID-19 briefing, Dr. Clay Marsh stressed that threats from the coronavirus haven’t gone away. The number of people hospitalized in the state with COVID-19 has increased by 50 in just the last week, for example. And he noted that the ages of people getting sick and dying are getting older and older.
“We now have seen about 90 percent of people who have died with COVID-19 over the last month or two be over 65 years old,” he said. “So it’s really pushing out to our older population. And that’s why it’s so critically important that we have people stay up to date with their vaccines.”
Marsh said current variants are up to 170 times more infectious than the initial coronavirus. He noted that nationally, only about 31 percent of Americans over 65 have gotten their updated COVID-19 booster shot.
“The COVID-19 virus continues to mutate at a relatively rapid rate,” Marsh said. “And because of that mutation, it’s constantly making new changes in its genetic structure.”
Marsh explained that BA.5, which the Omicron booster is directed against, was, at the time, the most infectious form of COVID-19 that we had seen. And it compared with the level of infectiousness of the measles virus, which is one of the most infectious viruses ever measured.
These new variants, particularly the BQ.1.1 variant has been assessed and is found to be about seven times more infectious than the BA.5 variants, and about 170 times more infectious than the initial variant from Wuhan, China.
“Despite the fact that more and more people have some form of immunity from getting vaccinated, or being infected and recovering from that infection, we know that these new variants are so infectious, that even being previously infected and recovered, or even having gotten your COVID vaccines is no longer an absolute guarantee that you will not be infected by these new variants,” he said.
But Marsh stressed that the vaccine still protects most people from serious illness.
“There’s a recent paper that came out of Harvard, which looked at all the states and looked at the current risk of either getting infected, reinfected, or having more severe complications and deaths, and West Virginia was number one on their modeling risk state group,” he said. “So it’s really important for us not to let down our guard.”