New record for weekly cases in West Virginia as more vaccines ship
West Virginia set another weekly record for positive coronavirus cases and deaths as it awaits an influx of vaccines from Moderna.
Health officials said the state recorded at least 6,638 confirmed cases of the virus in the seven-day period ending Sunday. That passed the mark of 6,439 positive cases set two weeks ago.
The state also reported 160 deaths last week.
The state's vaccination drive reached a third of all long-term care centers in the state last week, officials said on Monday. They expect to have administered doses to all 214 centers by the end of the month, ahead of schedule and ahead many other states.
Gov. Jim Justice has said about 85% to 95% of long-term care center residents are taking the vaccine, but about 40% of staff are declining it.
Vaccinations couldn't come faster as West Virginia has set weekly records for number of new cases in six of the past eight weeks.
Doses of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine are shipping to states on Monday after it gained federal emergency use authorization last Friday. Gov. Jim Justice said a combined 44,300 doses of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccines will arrive this week.
The state has already used over 93% of the 16,575 doses it received in its first shipment last week.
"We're administering the vaccine as quickly as we get them," the Republican governor said. "Now it's up to our West Virginians to answer the call and take the vaccine when it becomes available to you."
Justice has repeatedly said he wants to prioritize vaccinating older residents. A federal advisory panel recommended that people 75 and older and essential workers such as firefighters, teachers and grocery workers should be next in line for shots.
"It's about age," Justice said. "We better focus on age."
West Virginia is also considering plans to vaccinate lawmakers and more government officials, after Justice and four of his aides were among the first in the nation to receive a shot on camera last Monday.
A spokesman for the House of Delegates said on Monday that legislators are being asked if they would take the vaccine, seeking to determine exactly how many lawmakers would need doses.
"We will rely on the guidance of our state's health experts to determine when those lawmakers and staff will be vaccinated as part of their continuity of government distribution timeline," Jared Hunt, spokesman for the House, wrote in an email.
Last week, the head of the West Virginia National Guard said constitutional officers — elected officials such as the Attorney General and Secretary of State — and "key staff" would be provided vaccines. But it's unclear when that will happen or how many doses have been allocated for government officials.
Dale Lee, president of the largest teachers union in West Virginia, said state lawmakers should not receive vaccine doses before frontline workers such as teachers. The legislature will start meeting regularly in February.
"Many of our educators are waiting patiently for the vaccine," said Lee, head of the West Virginia Education Association. "I think our priorities should be to the frontline workers, first responders and the educators who are exposed each and every day."
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.