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Free COVID-19 Testing Clinic Held Monday at The Highlands

Photo by Scott McCloskey – Ohio County Health Department employees and other local medical personnel conducted a one-day COVID-19 drive-through testing clinic at The Highlands Monday.

WHEELING — The Ohio County Health Department conducted a one-day COVID-19 drive-through testing clinic at The Highlands on Monday as coronavirus cases in the county are on the rise.

The clinic was in response to a recent state mandate calling for additional testing when a county’s numbers are elevated, placing them in gold, orange or red zones as part of the state’s new color-coded COVID-19 pandemic map.

“When we went gold (for education) in the county several days ago … they called us up and said, ‘Can you put together a mass test (site). You have seven days to do it,'” Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble explained.

He said they were notified last Monday about the “gold” status, so they decided to conduct the testing site this Monday, to give the county enough time to properly organize and gather enough health department employees and other local medical personnel to conduct the testing site.

Gamble explained that if a county in West Virginia goes gold, orange or red as part of the state’s new color-coded COVID-19 pandemic map, that county is now required by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to conduct a one-day mass testing in addition to any other designated testing sites at least once a week while designated any of those three colors.

“So that’s what this is, it’s a response to going gold,” Gamble commented. “And again, if we go gold, orange or red, we’ll have to do it again,” he added.

He said as of Monday, Ohio County was still listed as ‘gold’ status for education and yellow for public health.

“We did tell the state, ‘You’re asking us to set up a mass test when we have one of the largest testing sites already and one of the largest testing counties.’ But they said, ‘No, it’s a requirement.'”

It was just last week that Gov. Jim Justice held an online briefing with reporters to explain the new County Alert System color coded map.

During the briefing, Justice explained the idea of adding an additional color to the map, which was developed by the DHHR, to give counties with increases in coronavirus cases more time to bring their outbreaks under control.

Gamble said the health department and Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency decided to conduct the one-day drive-through testing site at The Highlands, because it was a good location outside the city limits. He said they’ve already held several testing sites around the city of Wheeling in recent months and they wanted to conduct another one out in the county.

“It’s an open area and it’s really spread out,” Gamble commented. “It’s easily accessible off of the interstate,” he added.

Gamble said the state is providing the funds to conduct the one-day testing site. Monday’s site was set up from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 79 people were tested in the first two hours.

It was nearly two weeks ago when the Ohio County Health Department moved their regular daily testing site from Wheeling Park to an area behind the former Ohio Valley Medical Center. He said they moved the daily drive-up testing site to that location as part of a plan to eventually move indoors at that site when cold weather arrives for the fall and winter seasons.

Retired local physician, Dr. Thomas Wack, who was assisting with duties at the testing site at The Highlands, said it is very “helpful” to hold additional testing sites around the county.

“I think it opens up an opportunity for the community to get the testing done that we like, and the more testing that we do the more we find out,” Wack explained. “And especially if we’re starting to see increased community spread. Any numbers that we can get to tell us where things are coming from is really worth a lot. So I think it is good to do this.”

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