Many people are tired, scared and frustrated by COVID-19.
We are in the longest sustained pandemic in our lifetime, and there is no clear end in sight. We are currently being confronted with the most severe strain of COVID-19, the Delta variant we have seen to date.
Our state and our country are all under incredible strain from this variant and we currently have more people in American hospitals than we have since the winter peak at over 100,000.
In West Virginia, we have the second highest rapid rise in new cases in the country (behind North Dakota) and virtually our entire state is denoted on the COVID-19 county maps as red or orange, reflecting the great amount of virus spreading throughout our Mountain state.
Since the first week in July, we have seen over 12 times more new cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and West Virginians on mechanical ventilators. In the first week in July, we were down to under 1,000 active cases. Today (Aug. 27) we have over 13,000. Our death rates have increased four-fold over the past three weeks.
Our outbreaks are increasing in nursing homes, schools, prisons and other congregate settings. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is one of the most easily transmissible respiratory viruses of our lifetime.
And this new, much more infectious and severe form of COVID-19 comes at a time of fatigue for us. We are tired of COVID-19. Tired of hearing how bad things are. Particularly when we believed the worst was behind us.
We imagined getting back to full restaurants, bars, games and gatherings. We had lived through shutdowns, masks, distancing, no fan sporting events.
It was supposed to be better now. At least better until the winter.
But, it is not.
We have said that we need to dance with the virus. Unfortunately, we are now following it.
But, we can still lead.
By not waiting until federal or state leaders, or anyone else tells you or your family what to do by mandating it.
We know what to do. We make ourselves a firewall. Block COVID-19 from spreading or mutating. By becoming immune.
How do we do this? We get fully vaccinated.
Vaccines save lives.
Let me repeat…vaccines save lives.
In a recent study from Los Angeles, fully vaccinated people have nearly a 30 times protection against getting severely ill and being hospitalized.
In Israel, full vaccination protected all Israelis by 9 times from getting severe disease. We know that in America, over 85% of hospitalizations are in those unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
Almost all the deaths we see are in unvaccinated Americans. We see the same thing in West Virginia.
Vaccines save lives.
Layering the wearing of masks, physical distancing, avoiding big crowds and crowded indoor environments reduces COVID-19 spread.
We are all waiting to be told what to do.
Some want to hear that we are instituting vaccine and mask mandates. Others want the opposite.
When we fight and fracture, we become weak. When we stop helping each other as neighbor, friend, family – we are weaker.
Strength is not in our size, our money, our power or our family. Strength is in our hearts and character.
We are tired. We are fearful. We are angry. We feel out of control.
This is another storm for us to weather. And we will if we stay together.
We can’t make COVID-19 go away. But we can save lives.
Yesterday in the United States we lost over 2,200 people to COVID-19, almost as many as we lost in the 9/11 attacks.
We don’t even notice this today. We have become numb to the death and suffering that COVID-19 brings to our friends, neighbors and to West Virginia.
Over 635,000 Americans and almost 4.5 million world citizens – gone.
By building communities of firewalls, those resistant to reinfection, we stop COVID’s lifeblood - infected and unvaccinated people.
Let’s not only run to this fire, let’s become communities and a state of firewalls, that protect us all from the fire that is growing stronger each day in West Virginia. By restricting its spread, we will see it burn out much faster.
If we don’t, things are going to get a lot more challenging in our Mountain state.
Clay Marsh, MD
West Virginia COVID-19 Czar
Vice President and Executive Dean, WVU Health Sciences