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Slight surge in Belmont County COVID cases

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul reported a slight jump in new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, and before the end of the week he will learn from the state if the county remains in the “yellow” category of its color-coded alert system, the lowest coronavirus risk level.

In his update to the Belmont County Board of Commissioners, Sproul said there a total of 692 cases have been confirmed in the county since March, with 616 people who have recovered. Currently, 48 people have active cases of the virus and are in isolation; another four people are hospitalized.

Sproul said Wednesday’s numbers mark a jump from Tuesday’s reported total of 686 cases and 40 active and in quarantine.

“We were averaging about three new positives a day. This morning we got (more),” he said. “We’re still yellow. We’ll know (Thursday) if we’re going to change to orange or not.”

In recent weeks, Sproul said careless travelers had been responsible for spikes in the virus, bringing the disease back with them to Belmont County.

But Sproul said the current new cases continue to come from community spread, as his department proceeds to trace people who might have had contact with the infected.

Meanwhile, the health department is working with the county’s schools as they prepare to open. Sproul said classes have already begun at St. Mary’s school in St. Clairsville. Martins Ferry City Schools will resume classes next week.

Sproul said he believes almost all of the school districts have opted for a full reopening with attendance for all students, five days a week. Union Local School District will begin with a hybrid model of in-person and online learning to decrease the number of students in attendance at any one time, then reassess in the following weeks to determine any new cases.

“Getting the facilities ready, getting education out to kids,” Sproul said, and added masks or face coverings are required for students kindergarten through 12th grade.

Sproul is also working with school districts to plan upcoming sports seasons, since Gov. Mike DeWine’s office is permitting contact sports. He said schools will have discretion but must follow the mandates.

“He’s allowing it, but it sounds like he was very cautious about it proceeding. It’s up to the families and the schools to do the right thing,” Sproul said, adding parents have the option to use virtual education.

“It’s like the fairs,” Sproul said, adding that county fairs were permitted at one point, resulting in an increase of cases when fairgoers did not exercise caution. In late July full fairs were canceled and only junior fairs could proceed.

Commissioner Jerry Echemann voiced the opinion that regular school attendance was the best option for education.

“The majority (of students) are looking forward to getting back to school,” Commissioner J.P. Dutton said.

“In a pandemic, you do the best you can,” Sproul said. “You plan, and then you have to adapt with what comes your way. … There’s no playbook for this. You’ve just got to do the best you can.”

“Nothing can be a perfect system,” Dutton said. “There are multiple school districts in Belmont County.”

A total of 24 people have died while infected with the virus in Belmont County, which includes nine inmates at the Belmont Correctional Institution near St. Clairsville.

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