West Virginia's Jim Justice Says More COVID Deaths May Sadly Lead Unvaccinated to Shots

As West Virginia reported 31 new COVID-19 deaths Thursday, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said additional deaths caused by the virus may motivate more people to get vaccinated. Thursday's deaths boosted the statewide death total since the start of the pandemic up to 5,336.

During a news conference Thursday, Justice read the ages and home counties of the state residents who most recently died from COVID-19. Upon reading the age and county of a 22-year-old from Lincoln County, the governor paused reading briefly and shook his head.

"That's a 22-year-old person that you lost," he said. "That's really not good. That's really sad."

Justice has said that he does not support government-mandated vaccines or masking since they may only strengthen the opinions of people against the measures. He reiterated that belief during the news conference Thursday but added he hopes the unvaccinated will decide to listen to the state's urges and protect the people around them against the virus.

But if the state's calls for vaccination and the desire to protect loved ones aren't sufficient encouragement for some, they may be motivated to get the shot "if a bunch more people die," Justice said.

"We don't want that," he added.

Jim Justice
As West Virginia reported 31 new COVID-19 deaths Thursday, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said that additional deaths caused by the virus may motivate more people to get vaccinated. Justice looks over the 18th green during the first round of the Greenbrier Classic on The Old White Course at the Greenbrier Resort on July 29, 2010 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Scott Halleran/Getty Images

A COVID-19 surge since Christmas has brought confirmed daily cases in West Virginia to levels not seen in three months, and health officials on Thursday expressed concern that New Year's get-togethers could make the situation worse.

The state reported 1,908 positive cases on Wednesday, the most for a single day since a record 1,979 confirmed cases were reported on Sept. 23. Confirmed daily cases have more than tripled since Monday, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Statewide, active cases on Thursday hit 11,017. That's the highest point since 11,223 on Oct. 9. Active cases have risen steadily since dropping to a three-month low of 4,500 on Nov. 25.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state's coronavirus czar, said during the news conference that the spread of the Omicron variant in the state lags the nation as a whole by about three weeks, with the variant detected in about 15 percent of West Virginia cases. He noted that Omicron can affect even people who are vaccinated and boosted. However, vaccines and boosters help protect people from the most severe consequences of COVID-19, he said.

"This variant spreads ... faster than any other respiratory virus that we've seen, really, in our lifetime," Marsh said.

Justice encouraged West Virginians to get tested for the virus if they are around someone who tests positive or if they start to feel sick. He also said people in situations where they are gathered with strangers should "wear a mask; it's no big deal."

Justice also encouraged those who can to donate blood. And he noted that pandemic rental assistance is still available.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

WV Vaccine Drive
West Virginia's active COVID cases on Thursday hit 11,017, the highest point since 11,223 on Oct. 9. Corey Clonch, 37, of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, receives the COVID-19 Johnson & Johnson vaccine on March 26, 2021 on the grounds of the Toyota plant in Buffalo, West Virginia. Stephen Zenner/Getty Images