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Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

West Virginia Has Highest Rate Of COVID-19 Hospitalizations

Healthcare providers in the WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital Emergency Department receive their digital PPE from RNI team members.
Courtesy WVU RNI
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Nine of WVU Medicine's affiliated hospitals are operating at "crisis" levels.

West Virginia is coming down from the peak of the delta variant surge of COVID-19. But hospitals in the state are still overwhelmed by a high number of patients.

West Virginia has the most people per capita hospitalized with COVID-19 in the nation, according to the New York Times. The outlet reports 60 out of 100,000 West Virginians are in a hospital with the virus. About four out of five COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked about 10 days ago at more than 1,000. Now, there are 100 less patients.

West Virginia Hospital Association President Jim Kaufman said a state model projects hospitalizations will remain high for one to two more weeks.

“While we're starting on that backside of the trend on that peak, we're not sure we're going to see a rapid decline in the near future,” Kaufman said.

The delta variant’s spread looks the same across the nation and globe. Cases spike quickly and fall with roughly the same speed. The number of people infected with COVID-19 peaked in West Virginia on Sept. 16 at 30,000 cases.

Kaufman said about a third of hospitals in the state are working at “crisis” levels. This occurs when certain hospital standards, like staff-to-patients ratios, must be waived to meet the needs of all patients. It also involves delaying non-emergency care.

The state has not issued a blanket ban on elective or non-emergency care, unlike earlier in the pandemic. Kaufman said this has worked for the best, leaving decisions to individual hospitals on a case-by-case basis.

“A knee replacement? Yes, that's critically important to that patient. But that is a procedure in most cases that can be deferred or delayed. Hypothetically, a cardiac stent is also a non-emergency procedure. However, that's a higher risk and probably something that may not want to be deferred,” Kaufman said.

Federal data show 77 percent of hospital beds are occupied in the state. Kaufman said larger hospitals that can care for the sickest patients are the most stressed.

“The smaller hospitals, usually what they do is they transfer patients that need higher levels of care to larger hospitals... your larger hospitals in any state are going to be receiving more patients from a larger area,” Kaufman said.

Though West Virginia tops the nation in her capita COVID-19 hospitalizations, state health officials say hospitals are meeting the challenge. Hospitals in Alaska and Idaho are rationing care, which at its worst means deciding who will get live-saving support. Kaufman said it hasn’t gotten to that point in West Virginia.

“You may get patients who were referred for ECMO [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation], that's the Hail Mary of care,” Kaufman said about a machine used to artificially help someone breathe and pump blood. It does more work than a ventilator can. “Some patients may be too far along in their disease progression, or may not truly benefit from that treatment. I wouldn't say that's rationing.”


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