COVID-19 UPDATE: Gov. Justice provides update on vaccine distribution; announces increased utilization of monoclonal antibody treatment

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – Gov. Jim Justice joined West Virginia health leaders and other officials today for his latest daily press briefing regarding the State’s COVID-19 response.

VACCINE DISTRIBUTION UPDATE:
During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice discussed how West Virginia continues to lead the nation in the rate of COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration.

After receiving 44,300 new doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines this week, West Virginia has now received a total of 60,875 doses since vaccination efforts began across the nation on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

As of Wednesday, 18,488 doses have been administered, meaning West Virginia has recorded a 30.3% overall administration rate.

West Virginia achieved a 91.3% administration rate in the first week of the state’s vaccination program.

Bloomberg.com has ranked West Virginia’s progress distributing the vaccine as the fastest in the nation.

“We want to continue to lead the nation in every way,” Gov. Justice said.

The Governor added that, by the end of Week 2 of West Virginia’s vaccine distribution program, doses will have been delivered to all of the state’s health departments and all of the state’s 214 long-term care facilities. Additionally, nearly all healthcare workers at each of the state’s acute care hospitals are expected to have access to the vaccine by the end of Week 3.

“Over 10,000 West Virginians, including primary care providers, rural health clinics, free clinics, home health and hospice providers, urgent cares, and federally qualified health centers will receive vaccines this week, on top of the work we’re doing with our long-term care facilities,” Gov. Justice said. “By focusing on vaccinating the health care professionals who will be giving the vaccines to the rest of the population, we can make sure we keep our momentum going.”

MONOCLONAL ANTIBODY TREATMENT:
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that West Virginia plans to begin utilizing monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19 more frequently, following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent emergency authorization of the treatment.

West Virginia has 1,400 doses of monoclonal antibodies on-hand, with 600 more doses expected to arrive shortly.

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses.

“If you’re diagnosed with COVID-19, and if your doctor believes you can have this drug, early on in your disease, you can speak with your doctor or go to one of the hospitals if they have this drug available,” said Dr. Ayne Amjad, State Health Officer. “There is a certain criteria you do have to meet to qualify for this drug. One of them is if you’re above 65 years old, have chronic kidney disease, diabetes, if you meet a certain weight criteria, or if you’re above 55 and have cardiovascular disease.

“This drug is utilized in nursing homes a lot. We have been using it in several nursing homes already over the last couple of weeks,” Dr. Amjad continued. “It has been known to improve mortality rates in nursing homes and across the emergency room population. It is not used in hospital settings, it’s used in outpatient settings.”

COVID-19 CASE NUMBERS UPDATE:
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice reported that the current number of active cases in the state is now 22,826, down slightly from 22,877 active cases during the Governor’s previous COVID-19 briefing on Monday.

West Virginia has recorded 1,199 new positive cases over the past 24 hours, and 8,937 new positive cases in the past seven days.

The number of active hospitalizations is now 737, with 175 of those patients currently in the ICU, up from 167 on Monday.

The cumulative percent of positive cases is now 4.46%, up from 4.38% on Monday and the highest such rate seen in West Virginia since April 20, 2020.

As of Wednesday morning, the statewide rate of COVID-19 transmission – also known as Rt – was 1.11; the 4th-highest such rate of any state in the country.

WEDNESDAY MAP UPDATE:
Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice provided a look at West Virginia’s latest mid-week County Alert System map update.

Red counties: 36 (Berkeley, Boone, Braxton, Brooke, Cabell, Clay, Doddridge, Grant, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hancock, Hardy, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, Mason, Mercer, Mineral, Mingo, Monongalia, Morgan, Ohio, Pendleton, Pleasants, Preston, Ritchie, Taylor, Tyler, Upshur, Wayne, Wetzel, Wirt, Wood)
Orange counties: 11 (Barbour, Fayette, Kanawha, Lewis, Marion, McDowell, Monroe, Nicholas, Putnam, Raleigh, Wyoming)
Gold counties: 3 (Gilmer, Summers, Webster)
Yellow counties: 4 (Calhoun, Pocahontas, Roane, Tucker)
Green counties: 1 (Randolph)

The map is updated live on the DHHR’s COVID-19 Dashboard (Click “County Alert System” tab) throughout the week for informational purposes and to provide an indication of how each county is trending ahead of each Saturday at 5 p.m.; the time when each county is assigned its official color designation for the next week, which determines the level of scholastic, athletic, and extracurricular activities permitted in each county for that particular week.

OUTBREAK REPORT:
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice reported that per the West Virginia Department of Education, there are 11 active outbreaks in public schools across the state. These outbreaks account for 49 confirmed cases, down from 79 on Monday.

West Virginia now has 17 active church-related outbreaks across 15 counties: Braxton, Greenbrier, Harrison, Jackson, Lewis, Marion, McDowell, Mineral, Mingo, Monongalia, Nicholas, Raleigh, Summers, Webster, and Wyoming counties. These outbreaks account for a total of 169 cases, up from 145 on Monday.

There are now 111 outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the state, down from 117 such outbreaks as of Monday.

The Governor also reported that there are now 247 active inmate cases across the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) system, up from 199 on Monday. Among the cases that are currently active, 77 are at Eastern Regional Jail, 74 are at Saint Marys Correctional Center, 38 are at Central Regional Jail, and 25 are at Tygart Valley Regional Jail.

GOV. JUSTICE URGES WEST VIRGINIANS TO BE SAFE THIS CHRISTMAS:
Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice took time to discuss the upcoming Christmas holiday, urging West Virginians to reconsider celebrating the holiday with their family in-person to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“This thing is really tough. There’s been 1,194 people die,” Gov. Justice said. “Listen to me: you’ve got to be super careful with your family right now. Super careful. And, absolutely, as sad and as terrible as it may be, you may need to really not bring your family together, and, if you do, you really need to have masks on – everybody – and you need to not be there for very long.

“You may have to do a lot of talking on the phone, a lot of prayers on the phone, and a lot of love on the phone,” Gov. Justice continued. “But, nevertheless, I know in my heart that God above’s got this.”

AGGRESSIVE TESTING CONTINUES ACROSS STATE:
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice provided an overview of the 49 counties across the state that have free testing events scheduled through the Governor’s Aggressive Testing initiative.

This testing is available to all residents, including asymptomatic individuals. Proof of insurance is not required. Attendees should bring identification, such as a driver’s license or proof of address, to help in returning test results. Those under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

An interactive online map of all free testing locations across West Virginia is available on the state’s COVID-19 website. Users can filter the map by type of testing site, including daily testing events, recurring testing events, as well as Walgreens and Fruth Pharmacy testing locations. Users can also filter by county. Each location is marked on the map with a pin. After finding a testing location nearby, users are able to click on the pin for more information about that particular testing site, including the specific location and timeframe during which testing will be held.

UPDATED FACE COVERING REQUIREMENT IN EFFECT; SIGNS AVAILABLE FOR BUSINESSES:
Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice provided a reminder that his broadened Statewide Indoor Face Covering Requirement remains in effect.

The order requires all West Virginians age 9 and older to wear a face covering at all times inside all indoor public places, regardless of whether or not they are able to maintain proper social distance. The order requires that all businesses and organizations that invite the public into their facilities must post adequate signage advising guests of the requirement and are also responsible for enforcing the requirement to ensure it is being followed.

Posters are available on the DHHR’s online Face Covering Toolkit for businesses or organizations to print and display. Social media graphics are also available for download and use by the general public.

WEST VIRGINIANS CALLED UPON TO DONATE BLOOD AND PLASMA:
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice once again encouraged all West Virginians to consider donating blood and plasma through the American Red Cross.

In the Governor’s recent call with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Vice President Mike Pence said that there is still a shortage of plasma and blood all across the nation.

Those fully recovered from a verified COVID-19 diagnosis may have plasma in their blood containing COVID-19 antibodies that can attack this virus. This plasma is being evaluated as a possible treatment for currently ill COVID-19 patients.

For more information, visit redcross.org or call the local American Red Cross offices at 304-340-3650.