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Gamble: Interstate travel responsible for the rise in COVID numbers

WHEELING — In the last week, both of Ohio County’s metrics on the state COVID-19 map have nearly quintupled, indicating the rapid spread of the virus among the county’s unvaccinated population.

According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources map, Ohio County reported an infection rate of 2.76 and 1.3 percent positivity last Thursday. By Thursday, the previous day’s figures had risen to 13.11 and 5.75, respectively. The county’s reported active cases had nearly doubled from 23 to 45, as well.

Wheeling-Ohio County Health Administrator Howard Gamble said that in talking to the people reporting new infections, most of them were connected to having traveled outside the state, and in some cases traveling through several states. Some others were family members or share a household with those who had been traveling.

“We’re seeing a lot of travel, and when coming back, these individuals have been at multiple locations outside the Ohio Valley, and they’re becoming positive,” Gamble said.

Gamble said that even with Ohio County being fairly well vaccinated — around 62% — there was still a significant opportunity for the virus to spread and travel. He added that while the Northern Panhandle has not yet seen the more contagious delta variant of the disease — the closest reported cases are four infected people in Wetzel County — it does pose a risk going forward.

“We still may get it, fully vaccinated. We come back, we have mild symptoms, but don’t get tested, and we go somewhere and pass that to individuals not vaccinated,” he said. “If this is all the delta variant, it’s a little more contagious than the COVID virus, it can be passed around easier, people get sick faster.

“The uptick may be the result of (the fact that) we’re just at 62% of eligible individuals vaccinated. When you introduce that virus into this population, it’s going to find the next host. It found someone, and when they get back, it’s going to find the next person very quickly. When you still have 40% that’s not vaccinated, it’s going to find that next person, and that next person will be, for the most part, unvaccinated.”

Gamble said that, since Sunday, there have only been two breakthrough cases of COVID among vaccinated individuals. Gamble stressed that being vaccinated only affects the body’s response to contact with the virus, and that a person who is repeatedly exposed may contract COVID, but generally with milder symptoms.

“One is a mother, and she’s in a household with several other positive kids,” he said. “Even if we’re vaccinated, and we’re around a virus, we’re still going to pick the virus up. How our body responds to it is how the vaccine works in the body. If the vaccine that we took mounts a good response, we’re not going to have much in the way of symptoms.

“… Some (vaccinated people) are getting tested because they just want to see, because their household is sick, and there’s no symptoms. Others have mild symptoms — you can tell they have a snotty nose, sniffling. The symptoms are very mild, and they ride this out quickly. Versus, a lot of our unvaccinated are very sick,” he added.

Gamble said there are reports and anecdotal evidence that hospitals are seeing a rise in COVID patients, something increasingly common across the country.

“We have anecdotal (reports) that people are being hospitalized, but we do have reports confirming that the hospital seems to be busier now, with people who are positive.”

Gamble said the health department is resuming regular COVID testing in response to the new surge in cases. Testing will be offered from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at the former main entrance to OVMC.

“We have the opportunity to slow this down, to manage cases, and prior to this uptick, we were managing. Whether it was one case every two to three days or more, but when you throw in five or six (per day), we’re going back to the old style, when we were just rolling out vaccines, and we were scrambling between managing the cases and vaccinating.

“Then we vaccinated, and we brought down the number, but you introduce the virus again and you have the unvaccinated, it’s going to spread to everybody, whether they’re vaccinated or unvaccinated, there’s going to be a risk. I just wish we could make it so we could manage this, versus having to go into this large response that we have to do.”

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