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State focused on COVID-19 cases inside nursing homes

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Ohio’s nursing homes will be getting some extra attention from the state to help safeguard those most vulnerable to the new coronavirus.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced in a press briefing Tuesday that personnel from the National Guard will help with testing in nursing homes this week, with an emphasis on staff members as the most likely vector of bringing the virus into the nursing homes. DeWine said testing may continue over the course of weeks.

Stephanie Beougher, public information officer with the Ohio National Guard, said there are no details at this point on planned procedures. She added that the lead agency in the effort is the Ohio Department of Health.

National Guard personnel already have been assisting the staff at Belmont Correctional Institution west of St. Clairsville. The prison with its population of close to 2,500 inmates has been designated a “hot spot” of infection, with two recent coronavirus-related deaths on record there and a high number of staff members who have tested positive.

Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul said details of his department’s work with the National Guard are to be determined, and he expects to receive results from tests Guard members administer so that his staff can continue to find people who have been in contact with infected individuals and warn them to self-quarantine.

“The nursing homes is our second (highest) number for cases in Belmont County,” Sproul said. “We’ll wait and see exactly what the governor’s details are for the testing, but he definitely wants to get the staff tested, and then the possibility of the residents, too.”

He agreed that staff members should be checked first.

“They’re the individuals that are going in and out of the facility,” he said.

Sproul said arranging more testing in nursing homes has been a high priority. He said new residents already are being quarantined.

He said of the 12 coronavirus-related Belmont County deaths, seven are related to nursing homes. He said the prison accounts for about 71 percent of total cases.

Sproul said there are 11 nursing home facilities in Belmont County, four of which are reporting cases.

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.

Sproul said his office confers weekly with the nursing homes to review concerns, answer questions and provide protective equipment.

Sproul reported a total of 432 positive cases in Belmont County on Tuesday, with 330 recoveries. Four people with the virus are hospitalized. Friday’s total positives were 411. Sproul attributed the jump to new cases at the prison.

According to coronavirus.ohio.gov, there are 67 positive cases in total at the prison as of Tuesday, and the site lists 70 recoveries and 10 inmates awaiting test results. Meanwhile 90 staff members have tested positive, with 34 recoveries.

A total of 12 Belmont County residents infected with the virus have died.

Sproul said recent business openings have not resulted in an increase that his office so far has been able to detect.

“We’re watching, but it’s just hard to tell right now,” he said, adding his department has had very few complaints about businesses not complying with the state’s safe operating recommendations.

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