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COVID cases creep up in Belmont County

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul reported the total number of positive COVID-19 cases in Belmont County reached 434 Wednesday with 330 of those patients recovered.

That compares to 432 positive cases Tuesday, an increase of just two. Four people remain hospitalized with the virus, and 12 virus-related resident deaths are on record.

This seemed like good news after sharp jumps in case numbers last week and after Memorial Day weekend. He also referred to activity at a Wheeling Hospital coronavirus testing site at Wheeling Park. “We heard that the tent was pretty busy over in Wheeling (Tuesday) so we may see some additional.”

Sproul said that as of Friday, 1,924 Belmont County residents had been tested at the Wheeling site with 105 positive results.

“With the governor speaking about increasing testing, Belmont County is stepping up and doing that,” he said.

Guests at the Belmont County Board of Commissioners meeting included Richard Hord of Martins Ferry, who asked about the high number of Belmont County cases compared to other surrounding counties. Dutton said the coronavirus reached Belmont County early, since the first reported cases were St. Clairsville residents who attended a gathering outside the area.

The highest concentration of cases is located at Belmont Correctional Institution, west of St. Clairsville, that houses almost 2,500 inmates in conditions that make social distancing practices difficult. According to coronavirus.ohio.gov, there are currently 77 positive cases at the prison, with 88 recoveries and 10 with pending results.

The site now reports five confirmed deaths of inmates with the virus. The number had been two. Sproul said his department had not been notified of more deaths and that he would confirm this with the state.

“They never notified us of those,” he said.

Several weeks ago, three inmate deaths had been reported but the third was not confirmed. He said if the new number is confirmed, this would increase the total number of coronavirus-related Belmont County deaths to 15.

“In the past, we’ve had issues where we were getting some from (other prisons) and they were actually moved back out again,” Sproul said.

A total of 93 prison staff members have tested positive, with 57 recoveries. The employee illnesses have led to National Guard personnel and Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers being dispatched to assist.

In answer to Commissioner J.P. Dutton, Sproul mentioned testing activities at community health centers such as Ohio Hills Health Center in Barnesville. Sproul said the center will begin antibody testing June 1.

“They haven’t come up with a pricing yet, but again that’s going to be made available,” Sproul said. His office is in communication with the state about how and if his office would track the contacts of those non-symptomatic individuals with immune systems that have responded to the infection.

Dutton said county employees continue to wear masks. He said while masks are not required for customers by the state as businesses reopen, they are recommended and may reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Sproul said he has not yet received feedback from the Ohio National Guard, which has been assigned this week by Gov. Mike DeWine to test staff at Ohio’s nursing homes, since staff members are potential vectors for infection of the virus on vulnerable segments of the population.

“A lot of our facilities have already been done due to the case of them having a number of positives within those facilities,” Sproul said.

There are 11 facilities in Belmont County. According to coronavirus.ohio.gov, ResCare John Avenue Home intermediate care facility in St. Clairsville has had a total of four positive residents and two staff. ResCare — Mount Hope Home in Flushing has had one positive resident. Sienna Hills Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation outside Adena has had 14 positive residents and three staff, and ResCare — Wiley Avenue Home ICF in Barnesville has had eight positive residents and two staff.

Regarding the state’s reopening of businesses, Sproul said most were complying with restrictions.

“We have received very limited complaints,” he said, adding some people may have medical conditions that prohibit the wearing of masks.

Sproul commented on the continued opening of events, including non-contact sports on Tuesday.

“Football teams, etc., all get to go out and practice, which was great,” Sproul said. He said many of the regulations are in flux as officials consider such issues such as allowing people to forego masks for health reasons. “The guidance keeps changing every day. … They keep backing off of some of the requirements.

“We’re reaching out to different organizations, talking with different groups … sports groups to discuss what they’re going to do, how they’re going to reopen, and just try to get the information out there,” he said. “Making myself available, my staff available.”

He said banquet halls and catering facilities will be able to open June 1. However, dancing is still prohibited at events.

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