MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) — With the COVID health care crisis dominating the State-of-the-State address delivered by Governor Jim Justice, regional health officials are taking the lead across West Virginia.

In West Virginia’s fastest-growing region health officials are on the front line. COVID-related hospitalizations are at an all-time high in West Virginia. In the eastern panhandle, the best advice from health officials is to stick to the basics.

“People should keep distance from each another unless they’re wearing masks, face coverings that are of proper grade-size fit,” said Bill Kearns with the Berkeley County Health Department. “We also are asking people to please get vaccinated.”

And, says Kearns, the governor can promote state support for health programs all he wants, but preventing coronavirus infection starts at home.

“We have vaccination clinics offered everywhere from your local health care departments to your health care providers to pharmacies,” says Kearns. “There really is no reason that anyone who wants to get vaccinated for Covid cannot get vaccinated.”

And while the elderly are the most vulnerable, Kearns says even children should be proactive about immunization from infection. 39 of the state’s 55 counties are red on the COVID-19 county alert, meaning the highest transmission rate.

“We have the highest percentage of completed vaccinations as well as getting the booster,” Kearns explained. “But certainly the vaccinations are available for many many age groups outside the senior population.

More than 21,000 West Virginians had active cases of Covid, at the start of the week. State health officials confirmed 23 virus-related deaths as the week came to a close. The statewide death total is closing in on 5,700.

State Health Chief Bill Crouch echoes what Berkeley County health director Bill Kearns said, “Those who contract this virus without protection of the vaccine or booster are at an incredibly high risk for hospitalization and loss of life.”