In West Virginia, not only are the number of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations coming down, they've vaccinated more people per capita than almost any other state.
The Mountain State is often last when it comes to national trends, but not this time. West Virginia is credited with leading the country when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out and no one could be happier than West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice.
"Well, it does make me feel good, there's no question, (all the attention) is a little tiring," he joked, but added, "I am very proud."
Gov. Justice says a big factor in the state's success was not going with a federal plan to send the vaccine to big pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. Instead, the state stayed local, partnering with mom & pop pharmacies.
"We recruited our local pharmacies, our local health clinics, we absolutely put our National Guard right to work, we took this to the people because the people are used to going to certain places and everything, and with all that, we started putting shots in people's arms and that's why we've led the way," Justice said.
Third-generation pharmacist Heidi Romero who works alongside her father at Griffith & Feil pharmacy in Kenova says West Virginia was ready before the vaccine was ready.
"The state developed a team of people to begin working on the distribution process before the vaccines were even approved and they enlisted every willing pharmacy and it's just been a very cooperative effort between the state level/the pharmacies/the health departments, everybody has put forth their best efforts to make sure the vaccines are rolled out as quickly as possible," Romero said.
In Kenova, which is a small town of about 3,000 people, Romero said they have vaccinated about 1,000 people so far, mostly elderly patients at long-term care facilities and health care workers, and people 50 and older who are pre-qualified. Many are now receiving their second dose of the vaccine.
When asked how it feels to be the heroes in this pandemic she said, "It's honestly very humbling to be part of this process. We're just glad to be able to help in any way we can and the connection that we all have to our communities - it's made a big difference with feeling like you're finally able to do something to help the people that you know and care about," said Romero.
In a different ranking, you may recall West Virginia became the very last state in the nation to report a positive COVID-19 case in March of 2020. Now, it's hailed as a model when it comes to getting residents vaccinated, next to only North Dakota. The two states are in a virtual tie-with both administering 81-percent of available vaccines. Gov. Justice says it's not rocket science.
"It's just simply good sound thinking and having the guts to move and get it done," Justice said.
Something else may have helped pave the way for their success: They prayed. The governor proclaimed March 25th of last year as a statewide day of prayer. He urged West Virginians to pray for God's mercy and intervention with the coronavirus during a virtual prayer service at the state capitol.
"But Father, I pray for all of us in our great state that You will intervene now and hear our words as I know You will, and someway, somehow intervene to stop this terrible virus," Justice prayed.
The governor says although they've seen their share of tragedy and loss of life, he knows God has been with them through it all.
"He has surely guided the boat since that day, (that we prayed) I can promise you that," Justice said.