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Belmont shifts to yellow as COVID slows

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the number of currently active cases of COVID-19 in Belmont County. That number is 46, not the 68 originally reported.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County’s color-coded coronavirus designation shifted Thursday from orange to yellow — the least serious of the four levels — according to Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul.

For the past week, the county’s status had been orange, or level two under the new state system. Level three is red, with 12 Ohio counties receiving that designation by Thursday. Level 4, which no county is under, is purple. Face coverings are required in public in red and purple counties.

So far, 586 cases of COVID-19 have been identified among Belmont County residents since March. Of those, 22 people have died and 518 patients have recovered, leaving 46 individuals currently infected. Six of those residents are hospitalized with the virus. Among those who have died while infected are nine inmates of Belmont Correctional Institution.

Sproul said the color designations are based on many metrics, such as the number of cases and hospitalizations and the number of deaths in a given county.

Recently, Belmont County experienced a spike of new cases brought back by groups of travelers to Panama City, Florida, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Prior to that, the state prison just west of St. Clairsville was a source of new cases due to the large inmate population, but the number of new cases now appears to be shrinking daily.

“If we’re seeing a large increase and a rapid increase, then that moves us up. If we’re staying at steady, low numbers, then we’re going to drop, so as long as … we’re not seeing 20, 30 cases in a day, we’re going to stay in the yellow range.

“We’re going to stay in the low range. If we start getting to the point where we’re getting more and more people sick, if we start seeing a steep increase in hospitalizations, a steep increase in deaths, then we’ll color-change very fast,” Sproul said.

“Our deaths haven’t moved in a long time, which has been a very good thing, and our hospitalizations have remained relatively low, too, which both work in our favor,” he added. “I’m very hopeful.”

He said travel continues to be a main source of new cases.

Sproul continues to converse with schools about efforts to meet state guidelines to reopen in fall. He has voiced concerns that meeting the guidelines would be a major impact on a school district’s budget.

“We’re trying to work with them to come up with a good plan to come back to school and do it safely,” he said. “Hopefully be able to get sports and everything going, try to move to a normal kind of school year.”

He said any new cases arising from carelessness during the Fourth of July holiday will likely turn up in the coming days.

“Five to seven days is the incubation period on this virus, so if someone was a little too close or (didn’t) take proper precautions last weekend, they’ll probably start showing signs,” he said. “Hopefully we don’t, but it’s been about a week ago since the Fourth.”

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