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Health Official: Recent COVID Increase is a Ramp, Not a Spike

WHEELING — With dozens of new cases of COVID-19 positives and deaths being reported nearly daily locally, a local health official says the increase in cases isn’t linked to a specific incident, and it likely won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Howard Gamble, the health administrator of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department, has reported daily on the numerous new positives for COVID in the county, which frequently includes dozens of new cases, including a few days with more than 50, a number which has steadily risen since the start of the month.

Gamble said the rise in cases isn’t a “spike” tied to a specific incident, such as public events or Halloween, but a long-term upward trend, which self-reinforces.

“As you have more cases, it has the capability to be spread faster,” Gamble said. “This virus is airborne, and as long as it has hosts, it can keep up the momentum. In other words, it passes from one to the next, to the next, and it can keep the momentum going up and up and up, unless you have one of two interventions.”

Those interventions, Gamble said, are either biological — such as a vaccine, still months away from a proposed rollout to vulnerable groups — or public health measures, such as what county health departments and governmental orders work to enforce.

“That’s tough — we know that. (People say,) ‘I only want to do so much, I don’t want to be told to do so much.’ Public health measures and the vaccine will be what brings us down from this curve, but we’re going up very fast, very far, and it will take us a while to come back down from this curve.”

Gamble said the region first saw a similar upward curve in the spring, which was less intense.

“When people begin to see a downward trend, keep in mind that we are still elevated,” he added. “… People are infected, spreading it very easily from one host to the next, so we have that momentum.”

Gamble said a further complication was people “testing too soon” after exposure, before symptoms begin to show and before tests are properly effective. He said people exposed to someone with a positive diagnosis should wait five to seven days before getting tested, and quarantine for two weeks regardless of the outcome of the test.

“You’re sick, you test positive, and your contacts from work, school, church, and home, all run out and get a test. That test is going to be, good chance, negative, and in our mind, a negative test means I’m okay, and we go about our lives,” he said. “As a result, those individuals tested too soon, they became symptomatic, they spread to other people before they got a second test that said yes, they’re infected. … For the most part, five to seven days after contact with a symptomatic individual, you can see those signs and symptoms developing. … We think people are testing too soon, become symptomatic, spread it very easily, and are then infecting large groups of people because they went on about their day, their life.”

Gamble speculated that some of the increase in cases is due to people wanting to get back to their lives after a COVID scare followed by a negative test.

“If you’ve been in contact with a positive, quarantine, for 14 days from date of exposure, and you quarantine regardless of a negative test. If you get sick, your family goes and tests, they’re negative, great. But you still stay quarantined for 14 days. And that’s a tough one.”

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