Chris Schulz Published

New Omicron Variant Drives COVID-19 Spike


West Virginia is seeing the impact of the latest COVID-19 variant, and all metrics point to another surge.

Dr. Clay Marsh began his statements during Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing by saying the state was likely seeing the impact of the BA.5 variant.

“We know that this variant is very highly contagious and has a couple of properties that make it more difficult than past variants that we face,” Marsh said. “One is it binds to our body’s cells much more avidly and binds like the delta variant did. And it also has a very, very substantial ability to evade our immune systems.”

West Virginia recorded an all-time high daily positivity rate Tuesday at more than 38 percent.

Marsh was adamant that despite BA.5’s seeming ability to evade immunities, vaccination continues to be the best protection against severe illness and death from COVID-19.

“That’s the reason why we are so consistently asking people to stay up to date with your vaccine,” he said. “Use the vaccine calculator and do that because we know being fully up to date for your vaccine reduces your risk of dying by 42 times versus people that have not been vaccinated at all.”

There were 312 COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state Tuesday, nearly 100 more than just one week ago.

Hospitalizations have become a primary metric in tracking COVID spread since community testing ended last month.

Retired Maj Gen. Jim Hoyer warned the state’s total hospital COVID-19 capacity has been reduced from 800 beds to 500 due to staffing shortages. The state is increasing its preparedness.

“We’re increasing the frequency of our coordination calls with our hospitals, long term care organizations as well as our community health clinics,” Hoyer said. “Again, just so we’re prepared for contingencies that might occur.”

Hoyer also said the state will undertake an updated sequencing of COVID-19 variants next week, as well as a tabletop exercise the following week.

He said the state will be ready when a new version of the vaccine becomes available in the fall, but until then urged West Virginians to take advantage of the vaccines available now.

“If you’ve had a second shot, get a third shot. If you’ve had a third shot, get the fourth shot,” Hoyer said. “We know that the numbers show that it is important. And we know that this is not about preventing you now from getting this, this is about protecting you from serious illness and death.“