WEST VIRGINIA (WDVM) — With new data about the Omicron variant being released every day, officials in West Virginia are bracing for a potential surge in cases as the first positive case of the variant has been found in the Mountain State.

After reading the most recent list of reported deaths from the virus, Governor Jim Justice begged his residents, as he has throughout the entire pandemic, to get their COVID vaccine and now, more importantly, their booster shot.

“We knew it was coming. Well, how do we stop it? What do we do?” Gov. Justice said. “I just read that Pfizer said the booster shot with Pfizer gives you a 25 fold protection against this virus.”

According to the Population Reference Bureau, West Virginia ranks 3rd in the nation for the oldest population as of 2018. Over 20 percent of Mountain State residents are over the age of 65 according to 2019 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. West Virginia COVID Czar Dr. Clay Marsh stressed that unvaccinated, older residents are at the highest risk of dying from the virus.

“Three-quarters of all Americans who’ve died of COVID-19 have been over 65,” Dr. Marsh said. “And that equates to 1 out of every 100 over 65-year-old American since the pandemic has begun.”

Dr. Marsh also stressed that if the current trends of hospitalizations and ICU admissions continue, hospitals could become overwhelmed just as they were at the height of the pandemic. According to the most recent data from the state’s COVID dashboard, over 80 percent of hospitalizations from covid and 87 percent of people on ventilators with covid are unvaccinated.

Screenshot of data on Hospitalizations from Dec. 17 from WV DHHR COVID Dashboard

“We know that I’m vaccinated people or people who are eligible for boosters who have not gotten the booster are driving this new surge,” Dr. Marsh explained. “We need to do all we can to protect capacity and hospital systems and to save lives in West Virginia.”

Dr. Marsh went on to say that “the greatest gift this holiday season could bring” would be if all West Virginians would answer this call and get their COVID vaccine.