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COVID cases climb

Parties, travel boost numbers in Belmont County as state alert level is raised for Jefferson with an orange designation

ST. CLAIRSVILLE —

Gov. Mike DeWine continued to urge Ohioans to guard against spreading COVID-19 on Thursday as cases continued to climb.

In Belmont County, Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul reported a total of 607 cases, up from 600 Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Jefferson County moved from yellow to orange status on the state’s color-coded coronavirus alert system. And more than half of the state’s population was ordered to wear masks as counties around Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, as well as Athens County, were designated red — the third most serious alert of the four-tiered setup.

According to Sproul, 543 residents of Belmont County have recovered. He said there are 35 active infections among isolated patients.

“We’re getting more contacts, and contacts are positives,” Sproul said. “It’s just the spread within the community.”

He said travel remains the primary entry point of the virus into Belmont County. Some cases have arisen as a result of the recent July 4 holiday.

“We’ve got some that were from a Fourth of July party, and some of them were travel-returned and contacts of them.”

Recently, a 23rd person with the virus died.

Sproul said the patient, a man in his 80s, died within the past days. The man had been hospitalized recently.

An additional patient has been admitted to the hospital, bringing the number of people hospitalized to six.

“We had one of our positives go to the hospital,” Sproul said.

His office also continues to keep abreast of state guidelines.

“The big this is the governor (Mike DeWine) requesting that everybody wear a mask,” he said. “Trying to avoid us becoming Florida. … The numbers we’re seeing are where Florida was a month ago. They did their trend and the numbers really went up.”

Sproul said the Ohio National Guard has also completed testing staff and residents at the second Belmont County nursing home after Continuing Healthcare of Shadyside. Sproul said he has not yet been notified of the results or the name of the facility.

The future of education is another point of concern. On Wednesday, Sproul met with multiple superintendents from Belmont County’s school districts to answer questions about the best way to reopen the schools this fall while adhering to guidelines from the state.

“We just started the conversation,” Sproul said. “We were just going over different scenarios. Discussing if they would open fully, if they would open hybrid or if they would be virtual, what they would need to do and how they could do it safely.”

Options discussed by area school boards have included a hybrid method of dividing the student body into two groups, with each attending school two days per week with deep cleaning Wednesday. Common concerns include how to comply with social distancing in classrooms and during transportation.

“We’re still talking. We haven’t come to a final decision. Once we do, we’re going to do a media release…as a group…about what the final decisions are,” Sproul said.

Superintendents from Union Local and Martins Ferry City Schools district say they expect to make an announcement next week.

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