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Summer travel continues to bring COVID to Belmont County

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Leisure activities continue to be the most common method of spreading COVID-19 in Belmont County.

Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul said some people who are enjoying summer vacations are carrying the infection when they return home.

“Travel is still where we’re seeing most of our positives coming from,” Sproul said. “Contacts of travelers and the travelers themselves who are going to different locations and coming back and bringing it with them.”

With a total of 616 positive test results among residents since the pandemic struck the local area in March, Belmont County has 543 patients who have recovered. Six people are hospitalize with the virus, and 23 who became ill with the new coronavirus have died. That leaves 44 active cases among residents who are being quarantined at home.

Nine of the dead were inmates of the Belmont Correctional Institution. Sproul said all of the people who died while positive with the virus also had underlying health conditions.

The most recent spike in cases came in June after a large group of local teens and young adults visited Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and other popular vacation destinations such as Florida.

Still, Sproul said traffic through COVID testing sites continues to be brisk, with more test results released regularly.

He also reported that the Ohio National Guard has finished testing residents and staff at a second nursing home in the county, following testing several weeks ago at Continuing Healthcare of Shadyside.

At Astoria Place of Barnesville, Sproul said, positive cases have turned up.

“They had one positive employee and one positive client,” he said. “They were just recently tested, so they’re quarantined right now. Isolated.”

Meanwhile, Sproul’s department has added potential contacts of those people to the list of those to be alerted that they may be infected. Sproul has not heard of any further testing by the Guard at this time.

A spokesman for Astoria Place could not be reached for comment Monday.

Some stores such as Walmart and Sam’s Club are now requiring customers to wear masks. However, state regulations do not make such safeguards mandatory in Belmont County, since it is currently ranked yellow in the color-coded system of yellow, orange, red and purple, with yellow as least dangerous. Harrison and Monroe counties also are listed as yellow, but Jefferson County is at the next level, orange.

“Right now it’s just the red counties that have the requirements to mask,” Sproul said.

He continues to talk with the county’s school superintendents about plans and preparations for the coming school year.

“We’ve been trying to slowly put the puzzle together, he said, noting an online meeting is scheduled Wednesday. “Every day we do a little bit more. Hopefully we’ll have an answer that we can release.”

Several superintendents have speculated about options such as splitting students into two groups to allow for social distancing and attending in-person classes only two or three days each week. More online learning is another option. The superintendents have said they may release plans this week.

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