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W.Va. Reaches Tragic Milestone In COVID Related Deaths

casket with flowers
Mary Stark
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Adobe Stock
More than 7,000 West Virginians have died because of COVID-19.

More than 7,000 West Virginians have died because of COVID-19. It’s a significant milestone and state officials say we should be paying attention.

West Virginia currently ranks fourth in the nation for the rate of COVID related deaths behind Mississippi, Arizona and Alabama. While the state’s COVID czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, says using data to calculate rankings is a moving target and hard to track, West Virginia’s rate is still well above the national average. He suspects the state ranks so high because of the number of elderly residents, number of residents who haven’t been boosted and the state’s general health.

“We have the third oldest population,” Marsh said. “We have the first or second heaviest, most overweight obese population. We have the highest smoking population, highest heart disease population. Having people that are overweight puts people also at significant risk for COVID 19. And that may be another reason why we're seeing such a problem from COVID.”

W.Va. ranks second in heart disease, still some of the highest in the country.

West Virginia’s COVID related death rate 389 per 100,000 residents. The national average is 302 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Marsh points out that the age of people dying is in line with national statistics.

“This is really a tragedy, not only because we've lost so many great West Virginians,” Marsh said, “but we've lost so much of our experienced part of our population, given it's a disease that’s really impacted negatively our oldest and most vulnerable part of our population.”

In 2020, even before the pandemic, the census revealed that West Virginia’s population declined at the highest rate in the nation over the last 10 years, losing a congressional seat. It’s not the start of the state losing population. It’s trended downward since the 1960 Census. In a small state, 7,000 deaths hit hard.

“It's a tragedy of huge proportions,” Marsh said. “We've become sort of numb to these numbers. But these are real people, real families, real lives, real hopes, real dreams.”

Marsh says in order to change this ranking, West Virginia should look to improve overall health. Perhaps, the milestone will be a wakeup call.

“We know that by working on the general health of our population, that will also help reduce the deaths from COVID-19,” Marsh said. We hope that we can utilize this tragedy, and it is a tragedy of really almost unparalleled proportions for our state, but use this as a way that we can prevent this from happening for future generations.”

Marsh continues to encourage West Virginians to get vaccinated and keep up to date with their boosters. Timelines and more information is at vaccinate.wv.gov.

Southern W.Va. Bureau Chief, Reporter/Producer, jlilly@wvpublic.org, 304-384-5981, @JessicaYLilly

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