West Virginia will end September with its deadliest monthly toll from the coronavirus pandemic as officials put a new spin — a 2016 deadly flood — on their exhaustive pleas for residents in one of the lowest vaccinated states to get their COVID-19 shots.
“We’ve got to act,” Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday. “That’s all there is to it.”
Justice and retired National Guard Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, who leads the state’s coronavirus task force, discussed the June 2016 flooding that killed 23 people statewide along with the destruction of countless homes, businesses and infrastructure.
Hoyer spent a great deal of time responding to what the National Weather Service labeled as a 1,000-year flood event. It was the worst in the county where Justice owns the Greenbrier resort.
At a news conference, Hoyer said that while a lot of work was done aimed at mitigating future floods, the same thinking and efforts must be made during the pandemic to avoid what could be far more COVID-19 deaths.
Based on 3,642 total deaths since March 2020, West Virginia is going through the equivalent of 158 2016 flood events, Hoyer said.
“We’ve got to get people educated and we’ve got to get vaccinated so that doesn’t go up to 200 or 300,” Hoyer said. “So West Virginia, please get educated on the value of the vaccine and get vaccinated.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia had the nation’s lowest vaccination rate among the states per 100,000 population. And it also had the second-highest rate over the past week in cumulative virus cases per capita.
West Virginia hospitals continue to be stressed by the number of COVID-19 patients, including a record 298 in intensive care units.
And there have been 558 virus-related deaths this month alone. That’s more than the previous four months combined.
September’s toll includes 73 people, or 13% of the monthly total, who were considered breakthrough cases — those were vaccinated but suffered from underlying health conditions.
Justice highlighted the need both for unvaccinated people to get their shots and for those who already have them to consider getting a booster shot.
“We’re going to lose a bunch of more people, West Virginia. There’s no question about that,” Justice said. “Absolutely, for them, for respect for them, I truly believe that all we’ve got, all we can possibly do to stop this is to get vaccinated.”