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COVID death toll climbs in Belmont County

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County shifted from orange to red on the state’s color-coded risk assessment map last week and added two more deaths to its tally of residents who have succumbed to COVID-19.

The county is now reporting 34 coronavirus-related deaths. For several months, the total remained steady at 25.

Meanwhile, the county was officially designated Level 3, or red, on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System.

All counties in the area are at a high level of spread. Jefferson County also is designated red, while Harrison and Monroe remain at he less dangerous orange, or Level 2.

None of the state’s 88 counties is yellow, or Level 1 — the lowest risk category.

The Buckeye State now has four Level 4, or purple counties, with Franklin, Lake, Lorain and Montgomery counties now listed at that highest level of danger of transmission.

Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul said the latest two people to die after being infected are a man in his 70s and a woman in her 90s.

Sproul also confirmed an outbreak is occurring at a Shadyside nursing facility. He did not, however, have specific numbers of infected residents or staff members at press time.

Belmont County had remained at Level 2, or orange, for many weeks while surrounding counties turned red. Monroe County actually remained yellow until recently.

Sproul said this likely was because residents made doctor appointments and hospital visits across the Ohio River in Wheeling, but Sproul has reported ever-increasing numbers of cases in the ongoing surge of illness as fall gives way to the winter months. At one point recently, there were more than 90 new cases reported in a 24-hour period.

But Sproul also has been reporting more recoveries.

Since the onset of the pandemic in Belmont County, there have been a total of 2,067 cases and 1,086 recoveries. Currently, 913 people have active cases and are in isolation at home, and 34 people are hospitalized.

All of Belmont County’s school districts will be operating on a remote or hybrid basis in the week following Thanksgiving. Few can say for certain when they might be able to resume total in-person education.

According to an announcement on its website, the Martins Ferry City School District expects students to return to in-school classes Dec. 7, with virtual learning on Wednesdays and in-person attendance for the rest of the week until further notice. Any student receiving free or reduced-price lunches can pre-order for the week of Nov. 30 through Dec. 4 by calling 740-633-9741 or 740-633-0684 between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Monday. For lunches for the following week, call from 8-10 a.m. Friday.

Bellaire Local School District is conducting remote learning until Dec. 4, according to its website.

The St. Clairsville-Richland City School District will conduct hybrid learning next week, with online classes Monday. The student body then will be divided into two groups, with each attending in-person classes two days during the week to keep the school at 50 percent capacity.

Union Local and Shadyside Local school districts will operate with similar systems. Union Local Superintendent Ben Porter said he could not say when total in-person learning could resume.

“It’s day by day at this point,” Porter said in a text message.

“The district plan calls for when Belmont County goes red, we go hybrid, so that’s what we’re following,” Shadyside Superintendent John Haswell said. “It will all depend upon numbers. … I can’t forecast anything. This is a day-to-day thing that we live with.”

Bridgeport Exempted Village School District will be fully remote until Friday, with hopes of resuming in-person learning Dec. 7.

The Barnesville Exempted Village School District could not be reached for comment Friday.

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