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Sproul: COVID-19 could hit school budgets hard

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul explained the state’s latest regulations and the mission for institutions such as school districts when he spoke to the Belmont County Board of Commissioners Wednesday.

The latest count places Belmont County’s total COVID-19 diagnoses since March at 580, with 515 recoveries and 65 active cases. Six people are hospitalized. That number of hospitalizations had been four, but Sproul said a 70-year-old man and 60-year-old-woman were recently hospitalized with the virus.

“As far as we know, they’re doing OK,” he said.

A total of 22 people in Belmont County with the coronavirus have died, including nine inmates at Belmont Correctional Institution. Sproul said the prison seems to have its cases under control now, and the Belmont County Jail remains free of the virus.

“We’re seeing small increases in our numbers,” he said, adding travel remains a chief mechanism of contracting new cases.

Commissioner J.P. Dutton said it appears numbers of new cases have been leveling off in the past week, after a spike in cases brought back by beach-goers.

Belmont County continues to be designated orange by the state’s new color-coded method of classifying counties level of infection and risk during the pandemic.

The colors are yellow, orange, red and purple, with yellow denoting the lowest level of emergency and purple the highest.

The color codings are determined by several factors. Another spike in new COVID cases or people hospitalized could push Belmont County into the red classification, with mandated face masks and other regulations.

“Right now there’s no purple. Franklin County’s close to being purple,” Sproul said. “Every Thursday they decide if our status will change.”

“We still have some restrictions, if we were to move to red, then we would require masks,” Sproul said. “It’s based on hospitalizations, number of positives, different things.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Mike DeWine has extended restrictions that would have ended Tuesday.

“This time they did them indefinitely,” Sproul said. “They didn’t put an end-date.”

Sproul commented on the task now faced by the county’s school districts in preparing for fall in sanitization and precautions such as face masks.

“Leaving each school district to decide if they’re going to do a full-on school or if they’re going to do two days here and two days there, or virtual,” Sproul said.

“It’s going to be an epic task, honestly. Trying to figure out how they’re going to accomplish all this. The cost is going to be astronomical because they’re going to be required to have hand-sanitizers at all locations and additional hand-washing. All the additional cleanings, it’s going to kill their budgets.”

More challenges include the necessity of teachers wearing a mask, to the practicalities of social distancing in a classroom with 30 children. Older teachers may also be concerned for their vulnerability.

“There’s a lot of issues for them to work through. I feel for them,” Sproul said.

The Ohio National Guard recently assisted in testing staff and residents at Continuing Healthcare of Shadyside. Sproul said the Guard has begun testing at another nursing home. His office has not been informed which nursing home.

Afterward, Sproul said he continues to hear updates on the latest news.

“I’ve been hearing the antibodies are starting to wane in people, so there’s been a lot of reinfections,” he said. He could not comment on any long-term lung damage among Belmont County residents.

“We’ve talked to a few people. They’ve been noticing some long-term effects, but again, each person’s different in how long it will take to fully get over it.

Sproul expects matters to be further complicated in fall, when flu season begins.

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