West Virginia smashes weekly records for virus cases, deaths

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia has smashed weekly records for confirmed coronavirus cases, while the death toll was pushed higher Monday after more than two dozen previously unreported fatalities were discovered, health officials said.

The state reported 2,725 new positive cases over the week ending Sunday, a 19% increase from the previous week’s record of 2,296 confirmed cases in a seven-day period. The latest record easily could be adjusted higher as daily probable cases are confirmed.

The state has set weekly high marks in four of the past five weeks as the coronavirus continues to tighten its grip on the state and the country. West Virginia set daily records three times last week, including at least 531 confirmed cases on Friday. Nationally, more than 10 million infections have been reported since the start of the pandemic.

Health officials reported a record 44 virus-related deaths last week alone, and a revision made Monday to include previously unreported virus fatalities brought the state’s death toll to at least 530. Nine of those previous deaths were from Kanawha County and six were from Putnam County.

Over the weekend, the Department of Health and Human Resources’ vital registration office flagged more than two dozen deaths that happened weeks or months ago and hadn’t been reported as coronavirus-related, said Dr. Ayne Amjad, the state’s health officer.

COVID-19 deaths are supposed to be filled out on a separate form and reported to the state immediately. Most of the deaths that were flagged occurred in hospitals and nursing homes, Amjad said at a news conference Monday.

“If that death report is not filled out, we don’t know about it,” Amjad said. “As you can imagine, it was a shock to us as well that those were not in our system.”

The spike in cases in recent months coincides with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s efforts to increase testing for the virus and slow its spread. The governor recently chastised residents after few showed up at the state’s free testing sites despite higher rates of local community spread.

In July, Justice issued an executive order requiring people to wear masks inside buildings when social distancing isn’t possible.

“Sure, it’s tough. It’s really tough,” Justice said Monday. “And sure, it’s really confusing and frustrating.”

But until a vaccine is developed and implemented, ”just buckle up for a little while, West Virginia, and really try hard,” he said.

Just over two months ago, the state surpassed 200 positive virus cases in one day for the first time. Last week, the state averaged 389 confirmed cases per day.

West Virginia had a record 290 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday, up from 254 on Nov. 1, according to health officials.

Some high school football teams are in danger of missing the playoffs if their respective counties don’t improve their virus rates on the state Department of Education’s color-coded map that determines whether athletic teams can play.

In a typical year, playoff games are played on Friday and Saturday. This year, half of the 24 first-round games are set for next Sunday. That’s because schools are waiting for the next map to come out Saturday — if those in the orange or highest-risk red categories move into one of the three lower-risk categories for community spread, they’ll be allowed to compete.

“It’s high time, West Virginia, that we absolutely realize that sports are important but they absolutely have to be laid to the sidelines just a little bit. Sports are important. I’m a coach,” said Justice, who coaches a high school girls basketball team. “What is way more important than anything is to try to find a way to keep these people from dying.”

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