West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced late Tuesday that he’s “extremely unwell” after testing positive for coronavirus, forcing him to postpone his State of the State address.
Justice, who is vaccinated and boosted, said in a news release that although he was “surprised” he tested positive, he was “thankful to the Lord above that I’ve been vaccinated, I’ve been boosted, and that I have an incredible support system, especially my loving family.”
“That being said, I feel extremely unwell at this point, and I have no choice but to postpone my State of the State address to the Legislature,” he said. He added that his wife, first lady Cathy Justice, tested negative.
The governor is experiencing moderate symptoms, such as congestion, coughing, a headache and a fever, and is isolating at home, his office said. The 65-year-old is being given a monoclonal antibody treatment prescribed by his physicians.
Clay Marsh, the state’s COVID-19 czar, said Justice “took the exact right course of action” by testing when he showed a virus-related symptom.
“I have full confidence that Governor Justice will recover quickly, and it’s because he chose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and his booster shot,” said Marsh, the vice president and executive dean for health sciences at West Virginia University. “Without the immunity afforded by those vaccines, his outcome could be much worse.”
A spokesperson with the governor’s office did not immediately return a request for comment early Wednesday.
The governor’s positive test comes as the omicron variant continues to infect Americans in record numbers, regardless of vaccination status. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, said Tuesday that omicron will infect “just about everybody,” but he reiterated that the unvaccinated are 20 times likelier to die, 17 times likelier to be hospitalized and 10 times likelier to be infected than the vaccinated.
“Those who are still unvaccinated are going to get the brunt of the severe aspect of this,” he said at a Senate hearing, referring to the omicron surge. “And although it is less severe on a case-by-case basis, when you quantitatively have so many people who are infected, a fraction of them … are going to die,” he said.
As the surge that began at the end of 2021 has carried over into 2022, there is some optimism in regard to vaccination and testing. Pfizer is racing ahead with plans to manufacture 50 million to 100 million doses of a new omicron-specific version of its coronavirus vaccine by the spring. The White House is promising to provide 10 million free coronavirus tests each month for schools, aiming to help keep classes in person at a time when testing across the country is uneven and, in some cases, virtually nonexistent.
West Virginia is averaging 3,300 new infections a day, an increase compared to the past seven days, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. While deaths and hospitalizations are also up in the state, they are not increasing at the same rate as cases.
As of Wednesday, 55% of the state is fully vaccinated, which trails the national rate of 63%.
Justice was lauded early in the pandemic for West Virginia being a leader in vaccinations. But health officials noted last year that the state had hit a wall of vaccine resistance and misinformation, causing record hospitalizations and what was at the time a vaccination rate that was the lowest in the nation.
While the governor did not support President Joe Biden’s plan to vaccinate millions of American workers, he has repeatedly pleaded with residents to get vaccinated against the virus. Last February, he assailed long-term care workers who declined the vaccine, calling them “asinine.” When his state was conducting lotteries to reward vaccine recipients — he encouraged people to “Do It For Babydog,” his English bulldog — Justice began suggesting that the unvaccinated were taking part in a different type of lottery: one involving death.
“When you turn your back and say, ‘Nope, I’m not doing that,’ all you’re doing is entering the death drawing,” Justice said in June.
After he woke up Tuesday morning with congestion and a cough, he developed a headache and a fever, Justice said. Although his rapid test came back negative, his symptoms worsened by Tuesday afternoon.
“My blood pressure and heart rate were extremely elevated, and I had a high fever,” he said in the news release.
He got back the results of a PCR test Tuesday evening that confirmed what he suspected: He tested positive for COVID.
Since Justice will be unable to give the West Virginia State of State address, it will be delivered by written message to the state legislature on Wednesday to satisfy constitutional requirements, the governor’s office said.
Marsh, the state’s leading expert on COVID, said West Virginians should look at Justice’s case as another reason to get vaccinated.
“I continue to strongly encourage all West Virginians to take the COVID-19 vaccine and get boosted when it’s time to do so,” he said. “Everyone is susceptible to this infection, and with cases in the U.S. and in West Virginia at all-time highs, there has never been a more important time to get yourself and your family vaccinated.”
After describing himself as “extremely unwell,” the governor reflected on the thousands of residents in his state who’ve died of coronavirus since 2020.
“I ask everyone to continue praying for the 5,452 great West Virginians that we’ve lost,” he said. “We need to keep pulling the rope together. We’re going to get through this and put an end to this terrible pandemic once and for all.”