FILE – COVID-19 vaccine trials

(The Center Square) – In a news conference to update West Virginians on the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Jim Justice expressed concerns about the omicron variant.

At the time of the briefing, the state had 79 confirmed omicron variant cases and the governor expects many more in the coming weeks. Although the omicron variant is better at evading vaccine and natural immunity than the previous variants, medical experts have reported that the cases are generally much less severe and less deadly.

Still, Justice said the spread of the virus shows that residents cannot be numb to COVID-19 or become complacent in the fight against the virus.

“We’ve got to keep battling,” Justice said. “We’ve got to keep striving to make this thing go away. We can’t accept mediocrity. We’ve never done that as Americans. Our refusal to accept mediocrity is what’s made America the beacon of the whole world. Why would we sit back now and just become numb to the fact that we’re going to lose 25 to 100 folks every day, and just accept that? Are you kidding me? That’s not America. That’s not us.”

Overall omicron cases and hospitalizations have been increasing in West Virginia. There are currently 744 hospitalizations in the state; the number has been steadily climbing since the end of December. There are also 198 patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units and 117 on ventilators.

Justice also announced that 37 combat medics in the state’s National Guard will undergo their annual recertification training starting this weekend.

“This is an annual requirement, and it comes at a pivotal time when the Guard and our COVID Task Force are looking at any potential need in our local hospitals,” Justice said. “I have authorized the National Guard to build out to 600 personnel on our COVID-19 Task Force and they are currently working to identify any additional medical assets who can assist, if there is a need. We have also identified teams of Liaison Officers to go to hospitals to assess needs, if requested.”

About 71.5% of West Virginia adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and slightly less than 60% are fully vaccinated. More than 38% have received a booster shot. The vaccination rate is higher among elderly residents and lower among young adults and children. Death or serious illness are rare among younger people, but the risk increases if the person has a compromised immune system or another health condition and the risk goes up as a person gets older.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.