- West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice warned the state to brace for more COVID-related deaths if vaccination numbers don't improve.
- The state has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases and a deceleration in vaccination rates since July.
- The governor said he doesn't want to mandate vaccines for employees, saying getting the vaccine should be a choice.
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West Virginia Governor Jim Justice warned the public can expect more people to die from COVID-19 if vaccination rates across the state don't improve drastically.
"Seventy-four more people have died since Wednesday," Gov. Justice said, providing updates to the state's ongoing battle against the coronavirus in a news briefing on Friday. "And they'll keep dying. That's all there is to it."
"We just are going to keep lining the body bags up, and we're going to line them up, and line them up," he continued.
This comes as new COVID-19 cases in the state continue to skyrocket. West Virginia reported 2,070 new probable and confirmed cases on Friday, based on data from the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources.
The state excelled in vaccine rollouts, reporting a higher percentage of vaccinations in its population than any other state in February, the Wall Street Journal reported. Now, only 46% of the state's vaccine-eligible population is fully vaccinated against the virus, the lowest of any state according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials in West Virginia are citing vaccine hesitancy as a main factor in this vaccine slowdown. The government has offered several vaccine incentives in the past nine months, like a $100 savings bond to vaccinated people between 16 and 35, and even a firearm lottery giveaway in June. Health experts and data has repeatedly shown the vaccines to be safe and effective against the virus.
Justice previously expressed his uneasiness over the rise in the Delta variant in July and the state's ability to effectively respond to it, saying it made him want to "pee and throw up."
The governor also said in the Friday briefing that he doesn't believe in mandating employees to get the COVID vaccine. President Biden announced policies earlier this month requiring vaccinations for all government employees and employees at large companies with more than 100 people.
"At the end of the day, we're going to do one of two things: We're going to run to the fire and get vaccinated right now, or we're going to pile the body bags up until we reach a point in time to where we have enough people that have natural immunities and enough people that are vaccinated," he added. "That's all there is to it. I would really highly encourage you to get vaccinated."