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COVID-19 UPDATE: Gov. Justice Announces First Cases of BA.2 Omicron Sub-Variant Identified in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – During Friday’s briefing, Gov. Justice announced that West Virginia health officials have identified the state’s first cases of the BA.2 Omicron sub-variant – also known as “Stealth Omicron” – in Berkeley and Ohio counties.

“As always, when these variants pop up in West Virginia, we shouldn’t be surprised, but we need to take action and protect ourselves by getting our shots,” Gov. Justice said. “If you’re fully vaccinated and you still haven’t gotten your booster shot, I just don’t get it.”

“All of our medical experts have told you over and over that, if you aren’t boosted, your protection level, for all practical purposes, is zero,” Gov. Justice continued. “How can you continue to wait? The number one thing you need to do today is get that booster shot.”

State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh went into more detail about this latest variant.

“It’s been called the ‘stealth’ variant, not because it’s any worse than the original Omicron, but because it has different properties when you use genetic tests to identify it. But what is clear, in some countries, this variant has become the dominant variant and has out-competed the first variant, BA.1,” Dr. Marsh said. “We’ll watch it carefully. It doesn’t seem like it’s any more severe than BA.1. It may be a bit more contagious. But the immunity that we’ve gained in West Virginia from vaccines, and, we hope, more boosters, along with people that have been infected and recovered from Omicron recently, should provide us the necessary immune protection so that BA.2 does not spread widely.”

Once again Friday, Gov. Justice provided an update on his announcement earlier in the week that he had joined with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in sending a joint letter to the U.S. Administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, calling on CMS to grant a limited waiver of its vaccination requirement at rural or state-run facilities due to severe staffing shortages.

Gov. Justice explained that his staff had a productive call with CMS and the Virginia Governor’s Office on Thursday, where West Virginia was able to share its concerns about staffing at the state’s rural healthcare facilities and how the mandate would cause serious staffing issues.

CMS officials explained the rule as it currently stands and offered to take the request back to their people for consideration.

“We are going to continue to work together and push as hard as we can,” Gov. Justice said. “We will keep you updated if we have additional information to share.”

Also on Friday, Gov. Justice announced that more than 60 police officers with West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources have completed specialized training to assist the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation amid ongoing staffing challenges.

These officers will fill support roles at West Virginia prisons and jails, freeing up correctional officers to walk posts and for other frontline positions.

Participating officers will receive additional, on-site training once assigned to a facility.

Planned support roles include perimeter security checks, staffing facility control towers, and hospital detail.

“All across this state, we’ve pulled the rope together,” Gov. Justice said. “I thank all of our DNR officers who are helping. I’m really proud of you. West Virginia is proud of you.”

“When somebody’s been in need, we’ve stepped up,” Gov. Justice continued. “It’s a reflection of West Virginia through and through.”