Some rural hospitals in WV hit bed capacity as virus surges

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Some hospitals in rural parts of West Virginia have reached their critical bed capacities as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to surge statewide, health officials said Wednesday.

Health officials are pleading with the public to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits to allow hospitals to focus their resources on treating COVID-19 patients.

There were 813 patients hospitalized for the virus statewide Wednesday, just below the record 818 on Jan. 5 when vaccination efforts were starting. There are a record 252 virus patients in hospital ICUs and a record 132 patients on ventilators, according to state data.

“Our hospitals are being stressed in ways that they haven’t been stressed before,” Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus expert, said at a news conference.

In southern West Virginia, Princeton Community Hospital has no ICU beds available due to an increase in COVID-related patients, hospital President and CEO Karen Bowling said Wednesday. The hospital has 128 beds for acute patients and an ICU capacity of 18.

Bowling said people with emergency needs should still come to the hospital. Incoming patients will stay in the emergency department until a bed becomes available, either at the hospital or somewhere else.

In Lewisburg in the southeastern corner of the state, the 122-bed Greenbrier Valley Medical Center also is at capacity, according to a Facebook post from Dr. Bridgett Morrison, Greenbrier County’s health officer. Visitors to the hospital are now banned due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, and the hospital is conducting virus tests only as part of an emergency room visit for patients with virus symptoms, the hospital said on its Facebook page.

Telephone messages left with Morrison and the hospital weren’t immediately returned Wednesday.

Some hospitals in other parts of the state recently hit a seven-day average of 90% of their ICU bed capacity, according to federal data.

“We’re all on high alert,” Bowling said. “Other facilities also have a high level of patients that are needing critical care, too.”

Statewide the number of positive virus cases last week in West Virginia, about 7,800, were the second-highest for one week since the start of the pandemic. The number of active cases have doubled since Aug. 23 to more than 22,000.

There have been 45 virus deaths reported statewide since Sunday and 95 so far this month, double that from the entire month of July. There have been 3,169 virus deaths since the start of the pandemic.

While the seven-day trend of infections shows the virus in every age group, 16% of infections involve children under age 12 — too young to be vaccinated for the virus, according to federal recommendations.

Gov. Jim Justice, Bowling and others have pleaded with unvaccinated residents to get their shots. About 59% of residents over age 12 are fully vaccinated and 73% have received one dose.

“It’s critical as we get through this spike that there’s not another spike,” Bowling said.

About 83% of people currently hospitalized for the virus in West Virginia are unvaccinated, including 90% of ICU patients, said James Hoyer, a retired major general leading the state’s coronavirus task force.

Justice has refused pleas to issue another indoor mask mandate. An earlier mandate was lifted in June.

“I don’t want to sound like a tough guy, but I’m not going to be afraid of anybody,” Justice said. “I’m going to try with all in me to make the very best decisions for everybody.”

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