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Sproul urges caution as COVID cases stay steady

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The slow increase in new coronavirus cases in Belmont County continued Wednesday, when Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul reported the county’s total cases of the virus have increased to 669 from Tuesday’s 667 total, with 597 recoveries and 44 people active with the virus and isolated.

A total of four people are hospitalized and 24 people have died while infected with the virus, including nine inmates at the Belmont Correctional Institution west of St. Clairsville.

The latest person to die while infected was a woman in her 80s who had been hospitalized for some time.

Sproul said the latest person hospitalized is a woman in her 50s.

New recoveries have been reported in higher numbers, but interspersed over a longer period of days.

“Our numbers are low, which is great,” Sproul said, adding Belmont County retained its “yellow” color code designation by the state, with yellow the lowest risk of the yellow, orange, red and purple color classifications.

He said there are still no indications that careless travelers at the end of summer might bring more cases of the virus to Belmont County, as happened early in summer.

“We hope … if they are traveling they do it safely, because we don’t want to get back in the same situation we had where our travelers brought it back and there’s a spike,” he said. “Right now, we’re low, it’s looking good and we want to keep it that way.”

School districts in Belmont County have begun announcing their plans to reopen, either with full attendance five days a week or a combination of online and in-person attendance to reduce the number of students in the buildings at any one time. Sproul’s department continues to advise and keep them up-to-date on state regulations and how best to comply.

“We’re meeting with the schools on their back-to-school plans. We’re meeting with their cafeteria workers, nurses, anything that’s new with the COVID we have to go over and answer their questions in any way that we can with the goal of opening this fall and having a safe and successful year.”

Sproul said his office also continues to advise parents to accustom their children to wearing masks at home for short periods of time in order to prepare for mandated masks in school for kindergarteners through 12th graders.

“People are not used to wearing them. With something new, the more you can work with them to get them comfortable, the better,” he said.

He said currently the state is considering sports programs and regulations to safely start these activities.

Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine had a false positive coronavirus test when he was rapid-tested before a planned event in Cleveland. Sproul said local testing sites perform more accurate standard tests, not rapid tests. Sproul could not speculate if rapid testing might become more attractive in cases of students who travel to a high-coronavirus-risk area and want to know quickly if they must quarantine themselves.

“I know (people) want to do the rapid tests because people want those results back immediately. They don’t want to wait two or three or four days, but again the accuracy is not there yet for those rapid tests,” Sproul said, adding he did not have exact estimates of rates of false negatives and false positives. “They need to get more accurate…it’s not where it needs to be.”

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