Wva Virus Cases Drop For First Time In Months; Deaths Way Up

FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a news conference at the State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Justice said that 745 of the record 893 people hospitalized, or 85%, for the coronavirus on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, are unvaccinated. “If you have chosen to be unvaccinated, in my opinion, it was a bad choice,” Justice said. (F. Brian Ferguson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, File)
FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a news conference at the State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Justice said that 745 of the record 893 people hospitalized, or 85%, for the coronavirus on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, are unvaccinated. “If you have chosen to be unvaccinated, in my opinion, it was a bad choice,” Justice said. (F. Brian Ferguson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Active coronavirus cases in West Virginia have fallen dramatically in recent days, bringing a hope that the latest surge is at or past its peak but prompting warnings that deaths and record hospitalizations will continue to swell before dropping, too, officials said Monday.

The number of current virus cases statewide fell to 21,490 on Monday, down 28% from Thursday's pandemic high of nearly 30,000. The caseload had been increasing astronomically since early July, when there were fewer than 1,000 cases, according to state health data.

Last week marked a seven-day record for statewide cases at 9,571, breaking the weekly record of about 8,900 set the previous week. But Sunday’s 980 positive cases was the first time in 12 days that the count had fallen below 1,000.

While it's a sign that perhaps the pandemic is easing in terms of people contracting the virus, the toll on hospitals is at a breaking point, Gov. Jim Justice said at a news conference.

Working closely with the West Virginia Hospital Association, Justice said he will allocate federal pandemic funding to help reimburse stressed hospitals for staffing issues, expenses and revenue losses.

“We've got to step up right now and we've got to help our people,” Justice said.

The problem is expected to get worse.

Despite the drop in cases, deaths and hospitalizations are expected to continue increasing for as many as six more weeks, said retired National Guard Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, who leads the state’s coronavirus task force.

The number of virus-related deaths so far this month, 340, is more than those in June, July and August combined, according to health data. Those hospitalized for the virus hit a record 957 on Sunday, including 292 in intensive care units.

Justice said the state's latest efforts will provide staffing assistance and funding to hospitals and long-term care facilities to maintain workforce levels, including financial help to hospitals forced to defer elective procedures.

“If they need to start eliminating elective surgeries, and we do nothing, that would really destroy the economics of our hospitals,” Justice said.

The state hospital association welcomed the offer.

“Ultimately, funding will help support our health care workers who have been on the frontlines of care for more than 19-months and help maintain the long-term stability of our health care system to care for all patients,” association President and CEO Jim Kaufman said in a statement.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia has by far the highest seven-day average of virus cases in the nation at 716 per 100,000 population.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.