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12 COVID-related deaths so far in Belmont County

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul reports an increase in coronavirus cases Wednesday, with 12 people having died after testing positive.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul reported more deaths related to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday, with close to 400 total cases and almost 200 recoveries in the county.

“We’re now at 12 deaths,” Sproul said to the Belmont County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, adding that the latest deaths were from a nursing home facility. They include a woman in her 60s who was an employee, a woman in her 90s who was a resident, and a man in his 60s who was a resident.

Sproul also said the number of inmate fatalities related to the coronavirus at Belmont Correctional Institution is officially listed at two.

“We initially said there was three at the prison. The prison’s now just saying two, so we don’t know if that individual was transferred out, because they’re just saying two now. Again, we have our records, but they don’t let us know when they transport people in and out, so they may have transferred that person out, and a new residence is where they passed,” he said.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths listed has decreased before, when one fatality was taken off Belmont County’s numbers by the state because of doubts about the individual’s residency.

According to the latest reports from coronavirus.ohio.gov, 89 inmates at BeCI have tested positive, with two awaiting testing results and 60 recovered. A total of 79 staff have tested positive, with 31 recoveries.

The Ohio director of prisons declared Belmont Correctional Institution a COVID-19 “hot spot” this week, and nine members of the National Guard have been assigned to supplement the staff there while the Ohio State Highway Patrol is patrolling the perimeter.

In answer to a question from Commissioner Jerry Echemann, Sproul confirmed there have been no positive cases at the Belmont County Jail.

Sproul reported a total of 375 positive cases in Belmont County, with 187 patients recovered and out of quarantine. He said four people are hospitalized.

“Some of our positives, too, are … they live in Belmont County but they work elsewhere,” he said. “They’re not working in our facilities or our restaurants, but basically they live here, they’re our positives, so we have to keep them quarantined.”

In answer to a question from Commissioner J.P. Dutton, Sproul said those who have died while positive have had underlying health conditions or otherwise been physically compromised.

Sproul also updated the commissioners on the state of the Department of Job and Family Services, since an employee there has tested positive for the virus and is in quarantine. He said he had toured the DJFS facility weeks ago and observed the precautions in place.

“Employees were staying in their offices, wearing masks when they were out,” he said. “This person was positive as a contact, because another person was positive from a different location.”

His staff is conducting contact tracing, and the DJFS director has said the staff is maintaining strict sanitation.

“At this point, there’s not a reason to be concerned that I see,” Sproul said, adding the employee had been in quarantine while the health department awaited test results. He said the public access to the DJFS office has been limited and employees are doing more work online.

Sproul said health department personnel have been more active during the reopenings of Ohio businesses, with preparations underway for restaurants and bars to open dine-in service today.

He said campgrounds also will be open, but with restrictions. This coming Tuesday will see non-contact and limited-contact sports leagues opening, along with health clubs, gyms and swimming pools. Child care businesses are permitted to reopen May 31.

Sproul said his office is seeking more funding to increase contact tracing efforts.

“It’s been pretty uphill,” he said, adding that his employees also are ensuring that reopened businesses are complying with state guidelines on cleaning and social distancing. “Trying to do this and that has been quite taxing.”

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