As the state turns the calendar toward Sept. 8, the date Gov. Jim Justice has tentatively set for schools to open for the fall term, the daily numbers of Covid-19 infections continue to bounce around – at higher rates than earlier this year.
Saturday was a relatively mild day. According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, the state added 48 confirmed cases of Covid-19 out of 1,711 lab results for a daily positive test rate of 2.81 percent.
That is in the neighborhood of what the state numbers have been this past week, from a low of 2.31 percent last Sunday to a high of 4.62 percent on Thursday, a number the governor said at his Friday press briefing "we don't want to have.”
“Our new cases in West Virginia totaled 165. Our daily rate jumped up to 4.81. We have 1,604 active cases in West Virginia now, and ... the bottom line, is this, this is the numbers we don't want to have."
But those state numbers have been persistently higher these past two weeks than when the highly contagious disease first found a footing in the state in March and April – or even May and June. On April 6, the state reported a spike of 75 cases in a single day that, at the time, attracted a lot of attention.
In the eight days prior to Saturday, the lowest number of cases on any one day was 96, the highest 160, the average 134.5.
Health officials and citizens in Raleigh County, where the pace of new infections is accelerating, can relate.
The DHHR’s numbers for the county started a climb a couple of weeks ago and has yet to stall. On Saturday, the county had 126 confirmed cases total, seven more than its Friday total, 34 more than a week ago and 53 more than two weeks ago.
Solace can be found in a low positive test rate (1.17 percent), in the number of people who have recovered from their illness (98) and in the fact that no one in the county had died from their affliction.
More concerning is the percentage of young people who are being infected. The age breakdown of confirmed cases in the county shows that those who are between the ages of 60-69 account for the largest share of confirmed cases at 34.78 percent. The second highest age group is for people between the ages of 20-29 at 21.74 percent. And for those younger than 20, the numbers show that they account for 17.40 percent of all cases.
Statewide numbers show that no rural recess of West Virginia has gone untouched, that the virus, literally, has now worked its way into every county.
Doddridge County, population 8,448, had been able to avoid the virus until Saturday when the DHHR reported one case there.
Summers County in southern West Virginia had been sitting at two lonely cases for a long time – until Saturday when it doubled its total.
But two other counties in southern West Virginia have racked up noticeable gains as well. Fayette County has 16 cases in the past week (a 16.3 percent increase) to push its total to 114. Mercer County has added 16 cases (a 19 percent increase) to total 84 cases. Wyoming County, meanwhile, has more than doubled its number of cases in the last week, rising from seven to 15.
As of Saturday, West Virginia reported 1,603 active cases. The state also reported 4,115 recovered cases, as well as 80 people hospitalized with 35 in intensive care. Eleven patients are on ventilators.
The DHHR says there are, in total, 256,780 laboratory results with 5,821 of this coming back positive. The state's overall positive test rate is 2.27 percent.
West Virginia is among the 18 states that set single-day case records in the last week, putting the country on track to breaking a national single-day record for new coronavirus cases set less than two weeks ago.
Others on the list? Alabama, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah.
According to a New York Times database, more than 73,500 cases were reported Friday – nearly cracking the nation’s record of 75,697 cases, set on July 16. Since June 24, the seven-day average has more than doubled, to more than 66,100 on Friday from 31,402, according to the Times.
As the number of cases has continued to climb, so has the number of hospitalizations and deaths. Friday was the fourth consecutive day with more than 1,100 reported U.S. deaths. On Saturday, South Carolina announced 80 new deaths, a single-day record.
Soon, the DHHR will move to a once-daily release of the state’s Covid-19 data, officials said Friday, rather than issuing reports at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Officials said the move is an attempt to provide more accurate and understandable information on the most recent numbers.
“That’s really being done across our country, and it seems more efficient to do it that way because the numbers change from 10 to 5 and it makes that reporting period more difficult,” said Gov. Jim Justice.
The DHHR will make the switch “in the coming weeks,” Justice said.
The DHHR is also moving to a computer reporting system, according to DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch, replacing what many have called an antiquated system.
“We have been working on a new system, and I haven’t said much about that because the rollout of a new system is difficult. It is tough on our local health departments to get up to speed on new systems, so we’re trying to work with them,” Crouch said.
The new computer system is called “Checks Out,” Crouch said.
“We’re looking at potential rollout in about a week,” he said. “We’re actually pushing the rollout much faster than it would normally be in nonpandemic times.”