CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic this month has already doubled the total from August.
There have been 286 reported deaths from COVID-19 in September and at least 3,370 since the start of the pandemic, according to state health data. The September total includes at least 32 virus-related deaths added to the count after being reconciled with official death certificates.
Deaths during the pandemic peaked in January, when there were 654 reported from Jan. 4 to Jan. 31. They slowed to 49 total deaths in July but picked up again in August with 148.
“We’re going to have a bunch more die. That’s all there is to it,” Gov. Jim Justice said at a news conference Friday. “And the only way we can stop it from being a bunch more and then a whole lot more on top of that, in my opinion, is one thing and that’s to get vaccinated. I’m going to continue to plead with you to do that because I don’t know anything else we can do.”
Justice lifted a statewide indoor mask requirement in June as the number of cases dropped and he’s balked at issuing either a vaccination or new mask mandate. He has said mandating masks is “penalizing” some people but he’s not convinced it’s going to significantly help as the pandemic goes unchecked.
He has left the decision to mandate masks in public schools up to county officials. Justice said 53 of the state’s 55 counties have mandated masks in schools. The exceptions are Putnam and Pocahontas counties.
On Friday, the Greenbrier County Board of Health issued an indoor mask mandate due to an increase in virus cases. The board said in a statement that health workers and facilities have become overwhelmed in recent weeks. It said the county commission has 30 days to review the mandate and either remove or extend it.
There are 29,744 active cases of the virus and the state is on pace to challenge last week’s seven-day pandemic record of nearly 8,900 new positive cases. There have been at least 5,716 confirmed virus cases in the first four days of this week, according to state health data. The number of people hospitalized from the virus hit a record 922 on Friday.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia has the highest seven-day average of virus cases in the nation at 765 per 100,000 population. Tennessee is second at 764.