Dr. Clay Marsh’s work day as COVID-19 czar of West Virginia begins at 8 a.m. and is filled with a variety of Zoom meetings with committees ranging from the local to national level. Before the pandemic, his time was consumed with being the vice president and executive dean of health sciences at West Virginia University.
When the novel coronavirus took over the globe, Gov. Jim Justice appointed Marsh as COVID-19 czar of West Virginia. From an outsider’s perspective, overseeing five health sciences campuses, running a medical school and leading the state COVID-19 response might seem impossible. Marsh admits it “has been tiring at certain times.”
“I’m only a single person,” Marsh said. “I have to manage my own time and my own energy, but I’ve been given such wonderful opportunities throughout my life to have jobs where I learn and grow and try to help other people that I really feel blessed by it.”
Most Americans went into lockdown in March 2020 and put their lives on hold, but Marsh’s schedule only got busier. In a matter of days, he went from WVU chief health officer to nationally recognized COVID-19 czar of West Virginia.
When West Virginia makes national news, it’s often because of opioid deaths, poor water quality or mining disasters, and that makes for bad press. This past year has been quite the opposite, as the state under Marsh’s leadership has been recognized in several national publications for his work in the fight against COVID-19.
Marsh has been credited in publications such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and the USA Today. Most recently, Bloomberg voiced its praise for the COVID-19 response in West Virginia, calling it “an unlikely success story under Marsh’s leadership.”
Marsh has dedicated much of his time over the past year to helping save lives and slowing the spread of COVID-19, but he also realizes the importance of self-care and not spreading himself too thin. He makes sure to take time for himself each day to relax and unwind from the stresses of his demanding job.
Although Marsh is looking forward to resuming all his pre-pandemic responsibilities, he takes pride in dedicating himself to combatting the virus and saving lives.
“It’s been a really, very wonderful and unique opportunity,” said Marsh.
As the coronavirus continues to affect people’s lives, Marsh hopes that people can find the positives that have come out of the pandemic rather than focusing on the obvious negatives.
“Those are things that I hope people can take out of the COVID time once it’s over, that we did things differently, things still are working well, and maybe for at least some of us, we’ve found a path back to understanding our own goals, and desires, and joys, and issues that fulfill us in a clearer or sharper way that we can walk out of this and still maintain,” said Marsh.
To provide a glimpse of hope for the people of West Virginia, Marsh believes there is light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine, he says, is what people have to thank.
West Virginia has been one of the leaders in vaccine distribution in the United States, and death rates in the state have already seen a significant decrease —85% weekly since the start of 2021, according to Marsh.
The vaccine is now available for all West Virginia residents. Even with this step in the right direction, Marsh warns the people of West Virginia to stay vigilant as the pandemic continues.
“I am very optimistic for the future,” Marsh said. “But I’m also a realist to know that it’s not over yet, and we have to continue to stay nimble and agile and not be overly confident that we have anything figured out.”
With his role in the state COVID-19 response becoming priority over the past year, what Marsh misses the most about working full-time with the university is the students.
“I do have a history that has included a lot of mentoring, which has been fun, but right now I am not spending as much time as I used to doing individual mentoring because I just don’t have that time…that’s part that I really miss that I’m excited to come back to,” said Marsh.