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West Virginia sees coronavirus surge with near-record cases

December 30, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a press conference at the State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Citing a nursing shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Justice announced Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, that West Virginia will use $48 million in federal stimulus funding to aggressively recruit and train nurses over the next four years.. (F. Brian Ferguson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, File)
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FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a press conference at the State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Citing a nursing shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Justice announced Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, that West Virginia will use $48 million in federal stimulus funding to aggressively recruit and train nurses over the next four years.. (F. Brian Ferguson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, File)
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FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a press conference at the State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Citing a nursing shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Justice announced Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, that West Virginia will use $48 million in federal stimulus funding to aggressively recruit and train nurses over the next four years.. (F. Brian Ferguson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A COVID-19 surge since Christmas has brought confirmed daily cases in West Virginia to levels not seen in three months, and health officials on Thursday expressed concern that New Year’s get-togethers could make the situation worse.

The state reported 1,908 positive cases on Wednesday, the most for a single day since a record 1,979 confirmed cases were reported on Sept. 23. Confirmed daily cases have more than tripled since Monday, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Statewide, active cases on Thursday hit 11,017. That’s the highest point since 11,223 on Oct. 9. Active cases have risen steadily since dropping to a three-month low of 4,500 on Nov. 25.

West Virginia on Thursday reported 31 deaths from COVID-19, pushing the statewide total since the start of the pandemic to 5,336.

Gov. Jim Justice read the ages and home counties of those who died most recently during a Thursday news conference. They included a 22-year-old from Lincoln County, which made Justice stop reading briefly and shake his head.

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“That’s a 22-year-old person that you lost,” he said. “That’s really not good. That’s really sad.”

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, said during the news conference that the spread of the omicron variant in the state lags the nation as a whole by about three weeks, with the variant detected in about 15% of West Virginia cases. He noted that omicron can affect even people who are vaccinated and boosted. However, vaccines and boosters help protect people from the most severe consequences of COVID-19, he said.

“This variant spreads ... faster than any other respiratory virus that we’ve seen, really, in our lifetime,” Marsh said.

Justice encouraged West Virginians to get tested for the virus if they are around someone who tests positive or if they start to feel sick. He also said people in situations where they are gathered with strangers should “wear a mask; it’s no big deal.”

Justice also encouraged those who can to donate blood. And he noted that pandemic rental assistance is still available.

Noting the surge in case numbers, Justice said, “I’m very concerned it could get into a situation where our hospitals are overrun.”

The Republican governor reiterated that he does not believe in government mandates and said he thought they would only harden some people’s negative views of masking and vaccines. He said he hopes the state’s continued appeals to West Virginians to protect themselves and their loved ones against the virus will motivate the unvaccinated.

Another motivator would be “if a bunch more people die,” Justice said. “We don’t want that.”

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For answers to common questions about COVID, read the AP’s Viral Questions series at https://apnews.com/hub/viral-questions.

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Travis Loller contributed to this report from Nashville, Tenn.