West Virginia is up to 530 reported deaths related to COVID-19. And there are more than 660 new cases of the virus in West Virginia since Sunday.
Gov. Jim Justice gave a grim update in his latest virtual press briefing Monday — 17 more deaths related to COVID-19 reported since Friday, and 27 additional deaths that occurred several weeks ago, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
DHHR blamed local county health departments and hospitals for not immediately reporting the deaths, imploring local agencies to respond sooner.
With more than 6,900 active cases of the virus as of Monday night — up by 800 since Friday, state officials are being pressed to decide if current guidelines are adequately protecting the public.
Dr. Ayne Amjad, West Virginia’s state health officer, said it’s up to individuals to adhere to guidelines such as wearing masks, social distancing, and getting tested frequently.
“People need to have their lifestyle, their businesses open,” Amjad said. “We do hear people, what they’re saying; we hear the criticism, we take things into account. But life is not ‘stop-and-go,’ as the governor has mentioned multiple times, that life needs to go on.”
Amjad and other state officials stood by the state’s two color-coded maps, one that is updated daily by DHHR and the other that determines which county schools will be open for in-person school each week, and continued to implore West Virginians to get tested often for COVID-19.
This weekend also kicks off West Virginia’s high school football playoffs. The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (WVSSAC) announced official team pairings over the weekend. However, whether teams will get to play will be determined Saturday evening when the latest education map drops.
Any county colored red or orange must forfeit.
“Sports are important, but they absolutely have to be laid to the sidelines just a little bit,” Justice said. “Sports are important. I’m a coach. I get it. But school’s more important. And surely to goodness, if we can’t go to school, we don’t need to be playing. In addition to all that, what is way more important than anything is to try to find a way to keep people from dying.”
The governor, while urging school sports personnel and student athletes to be cautious and follow health guidelines, made no efforts to push any additional restrictions on schools, school sports, or the state as a whole.
In college sports, 17 student athletes at Shepherd University last week tested positive for COVID-19. Shepherd has been administering surveillance testing of employees and students each Monday since Oct. 12. This testing is funded by the governor for all West Virginia’s public two-year and four-year higher education institutions.
The governor shared a bit of bright news, however, on a possible vaccine for the coronavirus. Pfizer announced Monday its experimental COVID-19 vaccine appears to be working — by more than 90 percent.
“This could be the biggest announcement that we have had in our lifetimes,” Justice said. “It is unbelievable to think that we have pulled that off. Pfizer has pulled that off in the timespan that has been out there to make that a reality.”
Justice said he believes, if all goes well with the final trials of the vaccine, it would be available to the most vulnerable and first responders by the end of November or December. He notes, however, it would be “months” before it would be distributed to the general population.