Marsh: West Virginia sees small uptick in COVID illness

By: - August 25, 2023 6:00 am

West Virginia and the rest of the country has seen a small increase in of COVID-19 related hospitalizations lately, said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s COVID czar. (Getty Images)

Waning vaccine immunity and new variants of the disease are contributing to a recent small uptick in COVID-19 related illness in the United States, the physician who led West Virginia’s pandemic response said.

West Virginia and the rest of the country has seen a small increase in of COVID-19 related hospitalizations lately, Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s COVID czar, said Thursday. 

“These new variants that are starting to spread, along with the fact that for a good number of people, their last vaccine has been greater than six months ago, then I think we’re seeing some reduction of immunity,” Marsh said. “The virus is continuing to become more capable of evading the immune system. So I do think we are seeing a little bit of an increase in the number of cases.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations in West Virginia increased by 17 this week compared with the week before, Marsh said. Eleven more people were admitted to intensive care units this week than last.

Those numbers are “substantially” lower than at other times during the pandemic, he said.

The state no longer publishes weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations after the end of the national public health emergency on May 11, and more complete data was not immediately available Thursday through the West Virginia Hospital Association.

During a briefing Wednesday, State Health Officer Dr. Matthew Christiansen said on average, 10 West Virginians each day and 70-80 per week are hospitalized with COVID-19. The state has not seen a significant increase, he said.

“This remains some of the lowest hospitalization rates that we’ve seen since April of 2020,” Christiansen said. 

ER visits for COVID symptoms have increased in West Virginia the last few weeks, from .82% the week of July 22 to 2.14% last week, according to the state DHHR, but are lower than the 7% and 8% reported last December and January.

Nationally, COVID-19 hospitalization admissions have been on an uptick since the week of July 8, when there were more than 6,400, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the week of Aug. 12, the latest numbers available, more than 12,600 people across the country were admitted to hospitals for COVID-19.

Those numbers pale in comparison to the 44,000 people admitted to a hospital for COVID-19 in one week in December and January, and the more than 150,000 hospitalizations recorded at the height of the pandemic in January 2022. 

Boosters that target the most commonly circulated strains of the virus — those related to the Omicron variant — are expected to be available in mid-September,, once they’re approved by the CDC and the FDA. 

COVID vaccine boosters provide peak protection between two and four months after getting a shot, Marsh said, and have a substantial reduction in immunity after six months. Risks associated with COVID-19 are higher the older people get, and are higher in people who are immunocompromised, he said. 

State officials encourage residents to stay up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 vaccination booster recommendations using a tool of the state health department’s website. 

The COVID-19 Vaccination Due Date Calendar takes into account a person’s age, health state, previous infections and shots and the latest guidance from the CDC and FDA. 

Guidance about when to get a booster is complicated, Marsh said. 

“That’s the reason why the vaccine calculator is helpful,” he said. “Because you just enter your information and it gives you back what you should do.”

“Because even for me and our other folks who pay a lot of attention to this, there’s a lot of details about all this,” Marsh said. “Trying to have everybody remember all the details, would, in my opinion, be more likely to confuse people than it would be to help them.”

Marsh said as the fall and winter seasons approach, people should also consider getting their annual flu vaccinations and, if eligible, vaccinations against respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a common respiratory illness.

“Those are all prevention strategies to keep you from getting infected and/or really sick with any of those three viruses: COVID-19, RSV or influenza,” Marsh said.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Lori Kersey
Lori Kersey

Lori Kersey is a reporter with a decade of experience reporting in West Virginia. She covers state government for West Virginia Watch.