by Kate Shunney
West Virginia health officials are tracking the variant strains of COVID-19 and have confirmed the presence of the Delta (India-based) variant in Morgan County.
This is the strain of the respiratory virus responsible for the current upswing in COVID illnesses across the U.S.
As of Monday, July 26, there have been three cases of the Delta variant COVID illness in the county.
Health officials have also confirmed the Gamma variant, which originated in Brazil, and the Alpha variant, from the U.K.
According to the West Virginia DHHR, there are 20 active cases of COVID in Morgan County as of Monday – rising from a low spot in the 18-month pandemic. In April, more than 90 local residents were actively infected with the respiratory disease.
Neighboring Berkeley County has the highest incidence of the Delta variant of COVID-19, with 11 cases. That county has seen 482 cases of the U.K. strain, according to health officials. Those case numbers represent the highest incidence of those variants in the state.
“The Delta variant is a strain of the coronavirus that is circulating globally and is causing large waves of new cases in other countries,” said Morgan County Health Department officials this week. “Leading medical experts warn that the Delta variant is the most contagious strain yet and may cause increased hospitalizations.”
Health officials continue to urge those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 to get the free vaccine.
While the vaccines were developed to protect against the original strain of the respiratory virus, data indicates they provide protection against
severe respiratory disease from the variant strains, too.
While it is possible be infected with COVID-19 after being vaccinated, the vaccine has proven effective in reducing the severity of the disease and the need for hospitalization, say health professionals.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts have said widespread vaccinations and immunity as a result of infection are the two ways to keep the virus from spreading uncontrollably and changing in the human population.
Areas with lower vaccination rates are seeing a high rate of new cases now.
Morgan County continues to be near the bott
om ranking of West Virginia’s counties for vaccination rates.
County-wide, 27.1% of Morgan County residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Of those 12 and older, 30.5% of the population has gotten the vaccine.
There is no FDA-approved vaccine for those under 12.
Only Mingo County, on the southern border of West Virginia, has a lower vaccination rate in the state than Morgan County.
Local practice sees upswing
Dr. Matt Hahn, who runs River Bend Family Medicine in Hancock, has said after a lull of COVID cases for two months, his staff is seeking a “sharp rise” in cases in patients from the Hancock/Berkeley Springs/Fulton County area.
“Some of the Covid positive patients have been vaccinated,” Hahn said. “The vaccine is very effective, though certainly not 100% effective, against the virus. So, it is n
ot surprising to see people who have been vaccinated come down with Covid.”
“What national statistics are also showing is that the vaccine is incredibly effective at preventing the need for hospitalization amongst those who are vaccinated, but still get infected. Even more important, being vaccinated prevents dying from Covid if you are infected.” Dr. Hahn said.
“The Delta variant is here, and our initial experience with it is just as predicted. It is highly contagious, far more than earlier versions of Covid,” he said.
State team urges vaccination
West Virginia’s chief advisor in the respiratory pandemic urged state residents to pay attention to this variant.
“This Delta variant is different than the viruses we’ve seen before related to COVID-19,” Dr. Clay Marsh said. “This virus is much more contagious and it’s able to spread much easier because there are such high concentrations of virus in the droplets.”
Dr. Marsh pointed out that the vast majority of new daily cases in the U.S. are from the Delta variant.
“If we look around the country, in the last two weeks, we’ve now seen a tripling of the number of new cases of COVID-19,” Dr. Marsh said. “As we look at West Virginia, we’re still relatively early. But, based on every other place that we’ve seen, the Delta variant will take over and be the most common variant in West Virginia real soon.
“With school coming up and with many children who still haven’t been vaccinated, it’s really important for parents and grandparents, for any vaccine-eligible child to choose vaccination,” Dr. Marsh said in a state briefing.
COVID testing continues be done at local medical practices, War Memorial Hospital, the Morgan County Health Department and area medical clinics. Testing can be done at Reed’s Pharmacy drive-thru window Monday through Frida
y, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
A testing event will be held at War Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, July 27 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Free COVID vaccines are available in Morgan County through the Morgan County Health Department (304-258-1513), Mountaineer Community Health Clinic in Paw Paw (304-947-5500), Walgreens Pharmacy (304-258-4955), Reed’s Pharmacy (304-258-3800) and through select medical offices and clinics in the region. In Hancock, River Bend Family Medicine (301-678-7007) offers the vaccine.
Individuals can also visit vaccines.gov to use a “Vaccine Finder” tool by zip code.