June Leffler Published

More West Virginians Hospitalized With COVID-19 Than Ever Before

A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

There are now more West Virginians in the hospital with COVID-19 than ever before. That accounts for 1,043 hospitalizations as of Wednesday.

The previous high was in late September at 1,012 patients following the peak of the delta surge just four months ago.

The state will only see more COVID-19 patients in the near future, according to state health officials.

“We are seeing a surge on our hospitals greater than we’ve ever seen before. And that is a big, big concern,” said West Virginia coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh.

Omicron cases have yet to peak in the state. Once they do, Marsh said hospitalizations will keep rising for up to another two weeks.

Though omicron is less dangerous than the previous delta strain, the sheer spread of the latest variant is enough to send record numbers of people to the hospital.

“Even though we know that the omicron variant leads to shorter hospital stays on average than delta, and it kills on average fewer people … we are very, very worried that our hospital numbers have not come close to peaking yet,” Marsh said.

The state’s seven-day average caseload is now twice what it was during the delta surge.

Based on genomic sequencing, omicron accounted for just 3 percent of cases on Christmas Day. Just a month later, it accounts for 94 percent of cases, Marsh said.

“We know that our percent positive rate is still very high, still over 20 percent positive. So we are still believing that we are still watching some of the growth of the omicron variant’s spread in West Virginia,” Marsh said.

State officials also discussed treatments for those who test positive. The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that two monoclonal antibody treatments will be phased out because they are not effective against the omicron variant. Another antibody treatment is still effective and available in West Virginia.

“The ideal number for West Virginia would be 1000, but because of the supply chain issues we get 312 [a week],” said retired Maj. Gen. Jim Hoyer. About 50,000 doses are distributed a week nationally.

“We are getting, based on the supply chain availability, a little more than our fair share of the amount, but it is not quite enough,” Hoyer said.

The West Virginia National Guard announced this month it would send a total of 350 service men and women to assist hospitals in the state. Just over 200 members are trained for this role. Members would screen patients and guide them through the hospital. They wouldn’t provide medical care.

So far, 28 hospitals and a long-term care facility have requested this help.

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