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West Virginia ICU patients approaching pandemic high

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The number of COVID-19 patients in West Virginia hospital intensive care units is approaching the high mark in the pandemic as officials pleaded Monday for more people to get vaccinated and for the federal government to expedite a booster shot.

There are 203 virus patients in ICUs across the state, the most since Jan. 11. The record is 219 set on Jan. 6, according to state health data.

Currently there are 640 people hospitalized for the virus, a four-fold jump in the past month. The record of 818 was set on Jan. 5.

Officials said at a news conference that 82 percent of current virus hospitalizations and 74 percent of the statewide deaths over the past two months involved unvaccinated people.

Gov. Jim Justice and retired major general James Hoyer, who leads the state’s coronavirus task force, said 26 percent of those deaths involved vaccinated people who typically had underlying health problems such as heart conditions and diabetes.

Both raised the urgency that the state needs to administer virus booster doses. Last week Pfizer announced it is seeking U.S. approval of a booster dose of its two-shot COVID-19 vaccine, which would allow for a third dose for everyone ages 16 and older.

To date there have been 69 deaths and 5,056 virus cases among fully vaccinated people statewide, according to health data.

Overall, there were 6,142 positive cases in the past week, the highest since mid-January, and active cases statewide total 16,372, according to health data.

“There is no other pathway out of this, other than to be vaccinated,” Justice said. “We need to get our people our booster shots now.”

Hoyer said some hospitals have reduced elective surgeries and “unvaccinated people are taking up vital space in the hospitals that may very well impact other people’s health care.”

“With the health conditions that our population have, if we just waited for people to get natural immunity, our death rates and our hospitalizations are going to be out of control,” Hoyer said.

Justice announced an initiative that would give $150 school vouchers to residents who are raising their grandchildren if those eligible in their household to receive vaccines get them. Justice said it’s a way to encourage COVID-19 shots among those ages 12 and up.

Bonnie Dunn, director of West Virginia State University’s Healthy Grandfamilies program, said about 19,000 West Virginia children are being raised by grandparents.

Justice said registration for the vouchers starts next Tuesday.