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Ventilator Usage Hits All-Time Pandemic High In W.Va. As Hospitalizations, ICU Patients Approach Records

Office of Gov. Jim Justice

West Virginia hospitals are once again reporting record numbers as the coronavirus pandemic surges on.

Ventilator usage hit an all-time high Thursday, as 111 patients are currently making use of the life-saving breathing machine, according to data released Friday by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. An earlier record of 104 patients on ventilators was set Jan. 10 — just weeks after an end-of-2020 holiday surge.

Other data on pandemic-related hospitalizations continues to head toward record highs.

As of Friday, 714 patients were hospitalized with the coronavirus across the state. A previous record of 818 patients was set on Jan. 5.

The use of intensive care units across West Virginia is also on the rise, with 206 patients. An earlier high mark of 219 patients in intensive care came on Jan. 6.

Gov. Jim Justice acknowledged Friday the recent sharp rise in new cases, hospitalizations and other statistics.

“This situation is really serious,” Justice said. “We're hanging on, but it is really tough.”

Those advising the governor on the state’s response to the pandemic also offered grim reports about the effect of the coronavirus on West Virginians and the state’s health care system.

“The bottom line, West Virginia, is: People are going to the hospital faster, they're sicker and they're younger,” said James Hoyer, the head of West Virginia’s Joint Interagency Task Force.

The current surge of the virus — spurred on by the highly contagious delta variant — has put immense stress on hospital staffing, Hoyer said.

“We continue, at the governor's direction, to work closely with our hospitals — particularly through the Hospital Association — to monitor concerns related to capacity, staffing, and equipment. We are hitting a peak in the hospitals in West Virginia that are going to be a significant challenge.”

Current projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show West Virginia is set to hit a peak for hospitalizations and ICU use in late September — posting numbers double or nearly that — compared to current records.

According to those projections, the state is expected to need more than 1,500 hospital beds and about 500 ICU beds for COVID patients on Sept. 25.

Hoyer said those projections track with what public health officials expect to see in the coming weeks.

As the number of new cases continues to rise — including a number of “breakthrough” cases of those who have been fully vaccinated — Justice and other state officials urge residents to get the shots.

“You can rest assured — if you're not vaccinated, you're taking one hell of a chance,” Justice said. “That's all there is to it.”

Hoyer noted that 82% of West Virginians hospitalized in the state are unvaccinated. State data also show 0.63% of fully vaccinated people have developed COVID-19.

While Justice has remained hesitant to reinstate a mask mandate, on Friday he did tease the possibility of having to issue an order to once again halt elective procedures at medical facilities across the state.

A native of Washington, West Virginia, Dave Mistich joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in October of 2012, as the Charleston Reporter. After bouncing around a variety of newsroom roles at WVPB, he now focuses on state-level politics and government, as well as breaking news. Dave plays on the world's best-worst softball team, Chico's Bail Bonds. He can be reached via email at dmistich@wvpublic.org and you can follow him on Twitter @davemistich.

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