Wheeling City Officials Quarantined, Tested for COVID-19
WHEELING — Officials in the city of Wheeling are self quarantining while awaiting results of COVID-19 tests after Vice Mayor Chad Thalman tested positive for the coronavirus, and the future of upcoming public meetings in the city has been left uncertain.
In light of the recent surge in local cases of COVID-19, city leaders announced that Monday’s long-awaited public hearing on the GC&P Development project was again being postponed for precautionary measures.
Local leaders had just returned to holding in-person meetings after conducting business virtually online for more than two months when the pandemic began sweeping the nation this spring.
After this week’s regular Wheeling City Council meeting Tuesday afternoon, Thalman was informed that he had likely been in recent contact with a Wheeling resident who had since tested positive for COVID-19. Although Thalman was showing no symptoms and was not feeling ill, he subsequently went to be tested at the Wheeling Park testing site.
On Thursday, Thalman received results revealing he had tested positive.
Although everyone attending Tuesday’s council meeting at the City-County Building was required to wear masks and all guests in the room maintained social distance the best they could, several people were in proximity to others in the council chambers, including Thalman.
The number of COVID-19 cases had already been rising locally when the Wheeling councilman learned after the meeting that he likely had come into contact with someone who had contracted the virus.
After learning of his results, the councilman spent hours Thursday reaching out to inform everyone he could remember who came into close contact or spoke with him in person over the course of the past several days.
“I came extremely close to not even getting tested,” Thalman said, noting that because he was asymptomatic, he did not meet what most screening surveys show as enough criteria to warrant a test, despite his recent contact with a positive person. “I’ve been asymptomatic. I feel fine. It’s very possible to have this and not show any symptoms.”
Looking back after testing positive for the virus, Thalman noted that if he did have mild symptoms before being tested, he did not recognize them as anything that would raise a red flag to be coronavirus-related.
He said he has experienced moderate chest congestion , which he attributed to his typical reaction to seasonal allergies, and has had mild body aches that he attributed to soreness that is common after exercising.
On Friday, Mayor Glenn Elliott said that after learning of Thalman’s diagnosis, he and his fiancee both got tested and began self quarantine.
“When we heard (Thursday), I emailed everybody on city council to make sure everyone was getting tested and asked everyone to let me know when they get their results,” Elliott said on Friday afternoon. “I got tested at the Wheeling Park site. I know a few others did as well, and some went to other local testing locations. It didn’t take long. I called ahead, got in and got through very quickly. They said results are supposed to be back within two to four days.”
The mayor said city leaders should have their results back next week, and once they do, they will discuss in what manner the next city council meeting will take place. Wheeling City Council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is an evening meeting on July 21, which is two full weeks after they were in contact with Thalman. Officials noted that guidelines state that people should self quarantine for 14 days after coming in contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive.
“I much prefer meeting in person, but we do have to have a quorum, and we have to follow the health and safety guidelines,” Elliott said, indicating that Thalman will have to test negative before he can return to in-person meetings, as will any other council member if they also were to test positive. “We are in a global pandemic. We will see how it goes as far as meetings in the future. Meeting via Zoom does work when you have to do it that way.”
Many Wheeling residents were looking forward to attending the Wheeling Planning Commission’s public hearing on the proposed GC&P Development project on Monday evening. On Friday, however, city officials announced that the COVID-19 situation has forced them to once again postpone the long-awaited hearing.
The hearing was scheduled to take place Monday night at Wheeling Park’s White Palace — a large venue selected because of the anticipation of a large turnout from residents who wish to voice their opinions about the project, which proposes to construct a mixed-use development on the hilltop above Woodsdale. The hearing is on GC&P Development’s application for a special area plan as it relates to the city’s comprehensive plan for that area.
Wheeling Planning Commission Chairman Jeff Mauck cited the decision to call for the last-minute postponement was reached in light of the recent increase in cases locally, the difficulty to social distance within the stairwells and elevator necessary to access the meeting room at the venue and the presumption that the citizens most likely to attend the hearing are of the demographic most affected by the virus.
“The commission felt strongly about hearing the public comments in-person, however when considering all of the factors, the responsible decision is to postpone the hearing to a later date,” Mauck said.
Assistant Director of Economic and Community Development Tom Connelly said staff had taken steps to conduct the hearing both in-person and online for those who could not attend. Connelly said the in-person meeting had been set up to follow Gov. Jim Justice’s guidelines with Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department’s assistance.
“The commission was provided with 200 masks, hand sanitizer and signage for those entering the facility, and Wheeling Park spaced out seating in the venue,” he said, noting the planning commission has received comments from the public expressing their concern with attending the hearing under the current circumstances.
The planning Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 10 at which time they will discuss options to conduct the hearing at a future date.
In light of the recent rise in cases locally and across the state of West Virginia, Justice earlier this past week had issued an order that all people entering public buildings or working indoors with others should wear a mask.
During Tuesday’s Wheeling City Council Meeting, the mayor noted that Ohio County’s COVID-19 case numbers had been on the rise as well.
“If you’re keeping score there, it took about four months to get to 57 cases, and then it took just three weeks for it to double,” Elliott said. “That’s a very stark reminder that we’re not out of this yet. It’s something we should all be concerned about.”
The health department on Thursday and Friday announced 22 new positive cases of COVID-19 in Ohio County, bringing the total number of reported cases to 135 since the pandemic began.