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Projections: W.Va. hasn’t hit virus peak

CHARLESTON — With the Thanksgiving holiday expected to bring together groups of family and friends despite pleas to limit gatherings, state officials worry about the continued rise of COVID-19 infections.

According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia saw 967 new COVID-19 cases between Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing the current number of active cases to 14,283 — a 4 percent increase from active case numbers reported Monday.

Hospitalizations due to the coronavirus have continued to climb, straining resources at state hospitals. There were 510 people hospitalized as of Tuesday, up from 463 hospitalized Sunday. Use of intensive care unit beds increased to 144, up from 136 on Sunday. People requiring ventilators increased from 60 to 65 over the last three days.

COVID-19 deaths are also set to break 700 this week, with a total of 695 deaths reported as of Wednesday. Between Monday and Wednesday, the state reported 33 deaths due to the coronavirus, ranging in age from 35 to 97. The average age of the 33 deaths was 80.

“It’s the time of year we give thanks in so many ways,” said Gov. Jim Justice during his Wednesday briefing. “We should all give thanks for the wisdom and all the goodness these great West Virginians have given us over and over. We will miss them.”

With today being Thanksgiving, the long weekend is traditionally a time for families and friends to gather in large groups to share turkey and all the fixings.

But Justice and state health officials are worried that large indoor gatherings could be a vector for increased COVID-19 exposure.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control encourage people to limit Thanksgiving events to people already in their household, to spread out and avoid direct contacts, to hold gatherings outside if possible, and require mask-wearing when not eating or drinking. Some states, such as New York, have tried to use executive orders to limit the number of people allowed in homes. Justice said those kinds of limits are “ridiculous.”

“I would tell you to be really careful at Thanksgiving,” Justice said. “Be with your families and enjoy your families but try to — if you can — wear a mask if need be if your family is bigger than 10 to 12 folks. Wash your hands. Don’t get in each others’ faces. You can have all the fun and enjoy the greatness of this holiday.”

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects that there are an estimated 2,253 COVID-19 infections in West Virginia as of Wednesday, including those not tested. IHME projects that could peak by Dec. 29 at 3,278 estimated infections.

IHME also estimated that the state could exceed ICU bed capacity by Dec. 17 if hospitalizations continue to increase, peaking on Jan. 13, though the state is nowhere close to exceeding total hospital capacity. Total daily deaths are expected to peak at an estimated 22 deaths per day by Jan. 13.

Justice said until vaccines are available, possibly by next month — first for healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff — that the best way to control the spread of the virus is to wear masks, keep socially distant from others when possible, wash hands, and get tested.

“The overwhelming majority of our people are taking this seriously,” Justice said. “Unfortunately, today, the only bullet in the gun that we really have at this point and time is one of two things. One, of which I’m not in favor of at all, which would be a wholesale shutdown of all kinds of businesses and schools and everything all across our state. I’m not in favor of that at all. The other is to test and continue to test more, and we can wear our masks.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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