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COVID-19 Cases On the Rise in Local Counties

WHEELING — Despite the Northern Panhandle starting last week green across the board, West Virginia’s color-coded map of the region now reflects the fall foliage — local counties are shown in orange, gold and yellow with new cases of COVID-19 on the rise throughout the week.

The map, published by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, categorizes counties by the lower of two metrics, infection rate and the percent positivity rate. Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties would each be marked in red if measuring infection rate Friday.

But Ohio County switched from green to yellow Wednesday, when the percent positivity rate jumped from 1.3 percent to 4.55 percent overnight; total active cases in Ohio County more than doubled in a week from 54 cases reported Oct. 23 to 134 on Friday.

On Friday, the Ohio County Health Department announced 34 new cases of COVID-19, including four cases at Wheeling University. Health Administrator Howard Gamble said Friday that the vast majority of new cases are transmitted through community spread.

“We’ve really got to start thinking smarter,” Gamble said. “Wearing a mask, social distancing, wash your hands, and if people have a sniffle, congestion, don’t attribute it to seasonal allergies. More than likely, it may not be. If you attribute it to that, and then go and pass this virus around, that’s kind of why we’re here, with the accelerated cases. We’re not thinking that we should probably stay home, maybe get tested or isolate.

“Enjoy Halloween, get ready for Thanksgiving, but we have to get a whole lot smarter with our health, controlling how we’re in society, until we get a vaccine rolled in, that we’re not infecting a lot of people. … A lot of our cases are community based, meaning we’re picking it up everywhere. We’re very fluid between borders, state-to-state, county-to-county. … You can go to these events, but we’ve got to start thinking smarter.”

Gamble pointed out there are numerous testing sites throughout the county, such as Doctors Urgent Care and Wheeling Health Right, providing opportunities for people to get tested.

Twenty-one cases of COVID-19 have been reported among residents at Guardian Elder Care at Peterson Healthcare and Rehabilitation Hospital, with nine more cases reported among staff. Additionally, four staffers and one resident at Good Shepherd Nursing Home also tested reported positive.

Outbreaks reported among residents of long-term care facilities are generally considered as one active case for reporting purposes.

Wheeling Central Catholic High School closed its doors to in-person learning last week — a first since it opened Sept. 8 — in response to multiple positive cases found there. The private school is expected to reopen Monday.

Wheeling Park High School just returned to in-person classes Thursday after closing for the first part of the week because 50 students and faculty were quarantined due to five students and a staff member testing positive.

Marshall County shifted from green to yellow last Saturday, and to the next stage, gold, on Sunday. It maintained that status for the duration of the week. Marshall County reported a percent positivity rate of 4.24 percent Friday, slightly better than it had over the rest of the week, when the percentage climbed to 4.8 and then decreased daily. However, infection rate has been in the red since Monday, with that rate as high as 37.43 percent as of Friday, a figure which has only climbed since it first went red.

On Friday morning, Marshall County reported 84 active cases, down from 102 cases Thursday. One patient is reported to have COVID-19 at Cameron Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and one at Mound View nursing home. Between the two facilities, nine staffers have tested positive.

The Marshall County Health Department reported 38 new cases Friday evening, plus five probable cases. Due to “extraordinary demand on the staff,” a detailed listing of patients and the severity of their symptoms was not made available.

Cameron was identified as a COVID-19 hotspot, which caused Marshall County Schools to order the closure of Cameron Elementary School and Cameron High School on Thursday and Friday. A statement from the schools said the closures were due to a number of positive cases among Cameron community members. On Friday evening, the health department said 29 positive cases were found in the community on a testing day Wednesday. A statement from the health department said it had received increased reports of community events, failure to wear masks in public, failure to maintain social distance, and large-scale events being held.

The Cameron High School homecoming game against Bridgeport, which was scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, was canceled. A prerecorded message announcing the schools’ homecoming king and queen was released Friday evening on the school’s Facebook page.

Further south, Wetzel County is faring a little better than Marshall, sitting in the yellow due to a lower positivity rate of 3.84 percent, while its infection rate remains high at 31.29 percent. The New Martinsville Center continues to report new cases, with two more residents and one additional staffer testing positive since Thursday, bringing the total number of cases at the facility to 52 residents and 39 staff members positive, as well as five total deaths.

Wetzel County Schools Superintendent Ed Toman reported Thursday that he tested positive for the coronavirus, and the central office is closed to all staff until Monday for deep cleaning.

“We have no idea when I was in contact with the virus,” Toman said in a news release. “As someone who takes daily oral immunotherapy for cancer, I can honestly say I did what I could on my part to avoid this.”

The release followed Toman’s announcement Monday that Wetzel County Schools would be closed for the week by recommendation of the Wetzel-Tyler Health Department. All extracurricular activities were suspended until further notice, and students did remote learning for the week.

Wetzel-Tyler Health Department Administrator Karen Cain said there were 113 active cases in Wetzel County on Friday.

“People need to be very diligent in wearing their masks,” Cain said, adding that hand-washing and social distancing are critical as well.

If a person does not need to go out, they should remain at home, she said.

“This is serious,” Cain said. “It’s not going to go away. And nobody’s immune to it.”

The virus is less prevalent in Tyler County, where 13 active cases were reported Friday, down from 19 the day before. No active cases were reported at the county’s only long-term care facility, the Sistersville Center.

In Brooke County, cases among the general public have dropped by nearly half between Thursday and Friday, with 72 active cases dropping to just 38. The Valley Haven nursing center in Beech Bottom reported that all 43 residents at the facility are infected, though no staff members have tested positive. No residents or staff members at the Brightwood Center or the Wellsburg Center are positive. Brooke County, as well as Hancock County, have remained green since Sunday.

Hancock County also reported a decrease in active cases, dropping from 39 cases to 22 between Thursday and Friday. Two active cases were reported at the Weirton Geriatric Center, with nine staff members positive. One staffer at Stone Pear Pavilion is also reportedly positive.

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