West Virginia is blowing past the rest of the nation for how quickly the number of covid cases are accelerating, and hospitals are feeling the strain.

The surge is expected to get worse with cooler weather, more people inside.

The mask mandate lifted by Gov. Justice in the Spring has resulted in a hodge-poge of efforts in the 55 counties.

“Cases in West Virginia are speeding up faster than they ever have, and they’re speeding up faster than anywhere else in the country,” said Emory Parker, the data project manager at STAT, a national media company that investigates and reports on health, medicine and life sciences.

Right now, West Virginia leads the nation in that acceleration of new cases with 2.69 cases per 100,000 people per week per day.

The state’s rate of new covid cases is higher than South Dakota (1.68) , North Dakota 1.53), Ohio (1.46), Wyoming (1.34) and all the others.

“What we’re seeing now is, it’s just skyrocketing,” Parker said.

West Virginia recorded 21,752 active cases of covid-19 through today. A month ago, August 7, the state recorded 3,832 cases.

Hospitalizations from covid today reached 756, which is getting close to the pandemic’s all-time high in the state.

The state recorded 247 covid patients needing admission to intensive care units. The previous high was 219 in early January.

And the state recorded 132 cases so serious that ventilators are required. Each day now West Virginia goes even farther beyond an earlier high of 104 from early January.

The current covid surge in West Virginia has become so severe that hospitals are carefully assessing their resources, said Albert Wright, president and chief executive of WVU Medicine. “Things are trending in the wrong direction. We are increasingly challenged as an organization,” Wright said.

Wright said two major challenges are staffing shortages and demand for critical care beds. Ruby Memorial in Morgantown moved to a “crisis model” last weekend. Wright said that happens “when care demand is higher than your capacity to care for those folks.”

“We’re full at both our adult and children’s hospital in managing critical care patients around the state that are trying to get in here but we just don’t have the capacity for them,” Wright said. “So we’re trying to manage them remotely at smaller hospitals around the state, which is not an ideal situation but the situation we’re facing right now.”

That is working adequately for now, Wright said, but it could be a major challenge to keep up. He said hospitals may have to call back workers who had been out on their covid precautions because of exposures, having them work in appropriate personal protective equipment to care for patients.

“So if we’re overwhelmed at this point or approaching the state where we’re overwhelmed we’re not out of this yet. We’re still on the upward surge trend. So you have to start to look and say how many folks can you take care of, who is most likely to do well in those situations.

Across the state, hospitals are managing their strained resources by working together, said Jim Kaufman, president of the West Virginia Hospital Association. Hospitals are also rescheduling elective procedures or canceling procedures that require an overnight stay, he said.

“We need everyone to get vaccinated since we know the

vast majority of those hospitalized are unvaccinated,” Kaufman said.

Gov. Jim Justice has continued to urge vaccinations. But during a Monday briefing about the pandemic’s response, the governor said he believes more serious challenges are straight ahead.