Labor Day celebrations continue despite surge in COVID-19 cases
KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia health officials are warning that COVID-19 could easily show up as an uninvited guest at your Labor Day celebration, with active cases approaching a record level.
West Virginia DHHR reported 21,500 active cases on Monday morning. Officials say more than 1,300 people tested positive on Monday and 24 people died from COVID-19. An additional 112 people are in the hospital on ventilators which is a record number in West Virginia since the pandemic began.
In Kanawha County alone, 92 new cases were reported Monday, along with two more deaths. According to the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, the latest victims were a 72-year-old man and a 102-year-old man. Both had been vaccinated.
Gov. Jim Justice said the state is preparing for even higher case numbers after people gathered with their family and friends during the holiday weekend, similar to surges that happened after Thanksgiving, Christmas and Memorial Day. The governor, however, said he will not issue any statewide mandates to stop the spread of the virus.
“I personally believe that we’ve got more bad days in front of us than good right now,” Justice said. “Without any question whatsoever, we are going to have a lot more people die.”
Despite those concerns, people went out to celebrate the unofficial end of summer across the region. Crowds gathered at the Capitol Complex for a car show, in Racine for a Labor Day cookout and throughout parks for recreation.
“It’s wonderful to be able to get out and do something that feels relatively safe,” Kelly Carson said. “It’s not confined. I feel it’s very easily socially distanced at something like this, and we love old cars.”
“It’s not back to normal, but we are trying to be as relaxed about it as we can,” Jim Freeman said. “We have been doing a little bit of biking and a bit of hiking. We go to Kanawha State Forest, too. So, we enjoy it and like getting out.”
Freeman said he stayed home during Labor Day last year due to the pandemic, but was happy to get outside at Coonskin Park with his 6-year-old son. They played with remote controlled boats on the pond, ran around the skate park and climbed on the playground.
“It was a challenge last year,” Freeman said. “It’s really nice to get outside. Enjoy the weather and enjoy the parks that we have here.”
Other families had picnics, including Stewart Kennedy, who threw a family reunion with around 40 people at the park. The family had to cancel its annual cookout last year, but Kennedy said they were committed to getting together despite the increase in COVID-19 cases.
Kennedy said a number of his family members are staying home because they are currently sick with COVID-19. The rest of the large family is either already fully vaccinated or kept a social distance from each other as they fired up the grill.
“It just feels great,” Kennedy said. I mean, if you can do it responsibly and keep yourself safe, go for it. It feels wonderful.”
A crowd of people also gathered at the Coonskin Park skate park on Monday morning. As people tried to practice their skills and show off their best tricks, Isaiah James was the only person wearing a face mask. The 12-year-old is fully vaccinated, but said he wants to stay protected from the virus.
James said his family wanted to spend the entire day at the park, squeezing out every last bit of summer they could after not being able to go out last year during the peak of the pandemic.
“It is just that a lot of people have died from it,” James said about wearing a mask after being fully vaccinated. “I don’t want to die at a young age because I know my future will be a pretty good one. And I want to keep it that way and stay safe.”
Justice said he is concerned that a lot of people will not stay safe, and they will get the virus this weekend because of the state’s low vaccination rate. The true damage of the holiday weekend won’t be seen for a couple of weeks when infected people begin to fill hospitals and die.
“It is going to be a challenge going forward,” Ret. Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said during Monday morning’s COVID-19 news conference. “We know from the last surge here, and we know nationally, that when the numbers go up we see a lag before we see additional hospitalizations and deaths. The only way to work our way out of a bad outcome is vaccination.”
“We have got to get through this,” Justice said. “The only way we are going to get through this with an outcome that is halfway good is we need to get more and more and more people vaccinated. We’re not getting enough. We’re getting a lot, but we’re not getting enough.”
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