West Virginia crossed a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday as more than 8,000 people have died from the virus on the third anniversary of the beginning of the worldwide crisis.

“Today, we crossed 8,000 people that have lost their lives from COVID,” Gov. Jim Justice said during his administration’s virtual briefing Wednesday after the Department of Health and Human Resources released the death toll at 8,005.

“It has been something none of us had a playbook for,” he said, adding that West Virginia is ranked third in the country in age of population, and many people have chronic illnesses, both creating a vulnerable populace.

But the state acted quickly, he added, and those numbers could have been far worse.

“It has been an all-hands-on-deck battle,” he said, and there have been “many dark nights.”

Retired Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, director of the Joint InterAgency Vaccine Task Force, said during the briefing that, going in, everyone knew the state had the most vulnerable population.

“We needed to do everything possible to protect our most vulnerable citizens,” he said. “We made sure we did the best we could to protect the citizens.”

Hoyer said everything was done that could have been done and “the loss of life could have been much worse.”

Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar, added, “We were able to act faster and more efficiently than any other state, but we have to be careful not to get too satisfied with where we have been.”

He said whether a pandemic or an endemic (more isolated cases), COVID remains a highly infectious disease.

Marsh said 400 to 500 people still die each day from COVID in the U.S. and more than 1 million have died since the pandemic began.

“As we go forward we don’t want to become too complacent,” he said, especially when 90 percent of the people who die are over age 65.

“We have to take care of our most vulnerable and immunocompromised citizens,” he said.

During the last week, according to the DHHR, a total of 1,195 were hospitalized for COVID with 194 in ICUs and 86 on ventilators.

During the last seven days, 29 died.

Of all the people who visited emergency rooms during the last week, 3.5 percent sought help for COVID symptoms.

Marsh has always strongly pushed getting the vaccines as the most protective measure anyone can take.

Marsh also said that, with the state working well as a team on the pandemic, it is a good time to turn attention to other health issues which cause many “preventable deaths.”

“There is still much work to be done and much opportunity in front of us,” he said.

West Virginia has historically been plagued with chronic health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, strokes and obesity.

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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