Eric Douglas Published

COVID-19 Pandemic Wanes But Fight Continues

A thermometer and stethoscope are seen lying on top of a clipboard.Wesley JvR/ Stock

The COVID-19 pandemic may seem to be a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean the fight against it is over. 

Since last week, 16 West Virginians died from COVID-19. The nationwide average is 225 deaths a week. The West Virginia death total since the beginning of the pandemic is 8,083. 

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus czar, explained during Gov. Jim Justice’s press briefing that the Biden administration is looking to expand the original Operation Warp Speed, created under the Trump administration, with a new initiative called Next Gen. 

“What’s exciting about this is that the Biden administration is committing to looking at this pandemic and learning from it to continue to evolve the tools that we have available for us to protect our population in case there is another variant that causes a problem,” he said. 

The program has three phases

  • One: Develop new antibodies that will resist changes in COVID-19. 
  • Two: Develop a nasal vaccine for COVID 19. 
  • Three: Develop a super COVID-19 vaccine that will cover a number of variants. 

Marsh noted that about 92 percent of the population has some level of immunity to the virus but 90 percent of the deaths are happening in the older population with a weakened immune system. Another potentially more infectious variant is emerging. 

“We had seen the XBB1.5 variant as the dominant variant for several months now,” he said. “In India, we’re starting to see a new variant that is emerging from this family tree and it’s called the XBB1.16 variant. And it has three additional mutations that make it more infectious. Make it able to avoid the immune system better.”

Marsh said while the variant is in the U.S., it hasn’t spread as quickly as it has in India so far. 

“We always want to work around the world to get any clues about things that could interfere with our health and well being related to COVID here in the United States, and importantly in West Virginia,” he said. 

Marsh also referenced a study from the medical journal Lancet that looked at how various states handled the pandemic.  

He said West Virginia had the highest level of age and other medical illnesses in the country. But when the study adjusted for those problems, West Virginia ended up with the 14th best outcomes. 

“It was the largest difference by far of any state in the country,” Marsh said. “We want to continue to remain diligent about COVID-19 and make sure we protect the people at the highest risk. We also want to turn our focus toward the other health problems we have in the state, and working together I believe can continue to be a model for others.”