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CHARLESTON — The South African variant of COVID-19 was detected in Berkeley County this week as cases of the United Kingdom variant continue to rise in West Virginia.

Health officials say these mutated strains can be more contagious and easier to spread than the common COVID-19 virus. At his COVID-19 briefing Friday, Gov. Jim Justice and state health leaders said more teenagers and younger West Virginians need to get vaccinated as the state’s rates rise.

“Today, we’re again calling on the parents and grandparents to step up and tell your children to get vaccinated,” Justice said. “We’ve got to get you vaccinated because you are the people transmitting this virus more than anyone else.”

Dr. Sherri Young, health officer at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, made a similar request in a Friday news release, warning about increased rates among young people in the area.

“We need to be diligent as things open up and continue to wear our masks, keep 6 feet away from other people, avoid congregate settings and frequently wash our hands,” Young said.

“Get a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available to you. Be mindful that kids under age 16 cannot be vaccinated. Be careful with kids playing sports.”

Young said hospitalizations related to COVID-19 were also on the rise in Kanawha County, with the average age of patients in their 60s.

Statewide, hospitalizations are inching up, with 280 being treated for the virus in a hospital as of Friday, the most since the end of February. Of those in the hospital, 87 are in intensive care, the highest number since the beginning of February, and 17 are receiving care on a ventilator.

As of Friday, there were 145,299 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in West Virginia, 7,084 of which are active, and 2,737 COVID-19-related deaths, according to the state.

More than 1 million COVID-19 vaccines had been administered as of Friday, with about 434,000 residents fully vaccinated, according to the state dashboard.

Vaccinations are still lagging for minorities in West Virginia, as Black residents have received less than 3% of the state’s vaccine doses.

Bill Crouch, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, announced small changes to the state’s dashboard Friday that make the reporting more in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The dashboard will now feature limited vaccination information from the pharmacies and federal health care centers, as well as from state and local agencies, Crouch said. There were also minor changes in classifying “partially vaccinated” individuals.

“We’re using the best data we can to be transparent with you,” Crouch said.

Justice said Friday there were seven active church outbreaks in six counties: Fayette, Grant, Harrison, Kanawha, Nicholas and Raleigh.

According to the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 97 inmates and nine employees are infected with COVID-19 at the state’s correctional facilities. Vaccination data for these facilities was not posted for the most recent week by press time Friday.

Reach Caity Coyne at caity.coyne@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-7939 or follow @CaityCoyne on Twitter.

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