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Cooling Shelters Scarce in Ohio Valley During Heat Wave

The Ohio County Salvation Army’s shelter at 140 16th St. in East Wheeling is the only cooling shelter in Ohio County.

WHEELING — With daily temperatures regularly exceeding 90 degrees and humidity escalating the heat index over 100, finding a place to beat the heat is a must.

In Ohio County, the one cooling shelter in active use is at the Salvation Army, according to Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble. The shelter is able to stay in use with COVID-19 regulations in place, as long as visitors stay distanced and with masks, as required when indoors in a public space.

“You just have to do it safely. If you open it up … the individuals come in, and because of the government order, they have masks on, just like going to any other place.”

Gamble said that the pandemic did pose complications statewide, as some counties were hesitant to open their shelters’ doors, especially since some doubled as senior living facilities, which posed a health risk for the residents. Gamble said he believes the nearest such facility is in Hancock County.

“Sometimes, we’ll open up two facilities here in Ohio County, or we may direct them to other places that agree to help people during certain hours” he added. “In some communities, fire halls become areas to escape the heat. It can be done during COVID.”

Gamble added that the health department works with the Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency to coordinate efforts with the cooling shelters, but “Both (EMA Director Lou) Vargo and myself sometimes get knee-deep in emergency management, and also COVID. We need to work to get a shelter open, but they have to agree to it, see if others need to be open.”

Mark Van Meter, captain of the Wheeling chapter of the Salvation Army, said the shelter will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day that the temperature rises above 90 degrees. The location’s normal operation as an overnight shelter for the needy begins at 4 p.m. Visitors are asked to bring a mask or face covering. Hand sanitizer, ice water, restrooms and recreation activities will be made available.

“Individuals are welcome to come into our lobby, in the cooler air,” Van Meter said. “We’ve got ice water, television. They’re welcome to sit in any space available. … We ask everybody when they come in to sanitize their hands. We do sanitize the building twice a day, and maintain social distancing…

“They really need to bring their own face covering. I think we’re far enough into the pandemic that most everyone has one.”

Van Meter estimated that around 12 to 15 people could use the shelter comfortably, but he doesn’t anticipate more than six people at a time.

In Marshall County, no cooling shelter has opened its doors. Emergency Management Director Tom Hart said that both a lack of apparent need and concerns over COVID-19 have meant that no shelter has been set up as of Thursday, as well as concerns over potentially needing to open a shelter when an emergency strikes, such as a power outage.

“What we normally do is, if there’s anything that would be needed for whatever reason, we’d open up a shelter at that point.” Hart said. “We don’t want to open one in, for example, Cameron and then need one in Moundsville. … A lot of times, we look at using public facilities as shelters, and then going from there.”

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