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Sproul: COVID-19 cases holding steady

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul reported some signs of optimism Thursday when he delivered his latest briefing of issues related to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to Belmont County commissioners.

He reported numbers are largely unchanged, with a total of 479 positive cases, 405 recoveries, and four people hospitalized.

“We presently have about 58 under isolation quarantine right now that we’re monitoring,” Sproul said. “The numbers are slowing, which is great.”

Sproul said there have been 21 coronavirus-related deaths of Belmont County residents, with the latest being three residents of nursing homes and a group home.

In addition, the state lockdown continues to phase out, with Gov. Mike DeWine expected to remove more restrictions.

“It sounds like he’s starting to open things up more and more,” Sproul said.

Visitation at assisted living facilities is expected to resume soon, but nursing homes remain closed. Sproul said issues of depression and isolation have been reported among residents.

“They’re trying to come up with ways to have this … but be safe,” he said.

The Ohio National Guard will begin assisting in testing nursing home staff and residents soon. Sproul said a testing schedule has not yet been set, and numbers will be provided to his office.

Sproul could not comment on how many nursing home staff and residents have been tested at the county’s 11 nursing homes.

“We sent out kits to have the staff and residents tested at a few of the nursing homes, so a few of them have already been done,” he said.

According to coronavirus.ohio.gov, staff and residents cases have been reported at ResCare Airport Road Homes Individual ICFs in St. Clairsville, Belmont Manor in St. Clairsville, ResCare John Avenue Home Intermediate care facility in St. Clairsville, ResCare Mount Hope 2 in Flushing, Park Health in St. Clairsville, Sienna Hills Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation outside Adena, Wiley Avenue ICF in Barnesville, and Walton Retirement Home in Barnesville.

The largest site of coronavirus infection has been the Belmont Correctional Institution, which houses almost 2,500 inmates and is located just west of St. Clairsville. According to the website coronavirus.ohio.gov, eight of the coronavirus-related deaths are of inmates. However, five have not been officially listed as Belmont County deaths by the Ohio Department of Health, most likely because they were transported to other facilities before dying.

In answer to Commissioner Jerry Echemann, Sproul said the inmates who have died all had underlying health issues.

“We’re trying to determine the last few that passed away over there. We don’t have the final details on them,” Sproul said. “When they pass away, the state doesn’t always tell us.”

The facility has 83 total cases listed, and 89 recoveries, with 33 awaiting pending test results. Among prison staff, 97 positives have been reported, with 74 recoveries. The high number of infections among the staff has resulting in Ohio National Guard personnel assisting inside the prison, while highway patrol troopers aid in guarding the perimeter.

“More and more guidance and more and more details are coming out every day,” Sproul said. “It’s a fluid process.”

His office continues to meet with the Belmont County fair board. The decision of whether to hold the fair September as usual has yet to be made. Other counties have canceled their events or are only holding junior fairs.

Also, criteria to be tested has expanded to include asymptomatic people.

“So basically just about everybody can get tested,” Sproul said. He had no recommendation on whether people should have themselves tested. “It’s a personal choice. … You can get tested…walk down the street, run into somebody, they’re positive and you don’t know it.”

In Belmont County, testing is available at Barnesville Hospital and Ohio Hills Health Services in Barnesville. Closer to the Ohio River communities, testing is available at Wheeling Hospital, although Sproul concedes that site is likely very busy.

He added antibody testing is currently being offered at Ohio Hills and Barnesville Hospital in Barnesville. The tests determine if an individual has antibodies for the virus and so has likely had it before. Sproul said the science was still unclear whether having had the virus conveys immunity.

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