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Area braces for post-holiday COVID uptick

MARTINS FERRY — That stubborn COVID virus, the bully on the block who brings along friends that no one seems to be able to beat, continues on and with the ending of Thanksgiving and the coming Christmas season, authorities fear another spike, some in areas greater than others.

Monroe County is reporting 2,347 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, with 2,213 recovered, 76 active cases and 58 deaths, according to figures on the health department’s website.

Belmont County’s numbers are much higher with 10,700 total confirmed cases, 667 active infections, 9,868 recovered, 22 hospitalized and 143 deaths as of Tuesday, according to health department Deputy Commissioner Robert Sproul. He also expressed his concern over the Thanksgiving holiday that’s passed with his eye on the Christmas season. He fears it may be as bad as last year, reporting 38 cases already from Monday to Tuesday.

Harrison County Health Administrator Garen Rhome expects to see an uptick in infections from the Thanksgiving weekend “any day now.”

“People could begin to be symptomatic if they’ve been exposed on Thanksgiving,” Rhome said. “And that Thanksgiving window won’t close until two weeks after.”

Health officials are paying close attention to numbers that appear above average in preparing for the anticipated spike in cases.

Rhome also said his department has seen “daily increases in percent change day to day.” But as of Monday, it has actually seen a small decline in those percentages. When it comes to case rates, Harrison County has 305 cases per 100,000 residents, but it is down around 100 cases from last week. The county only actually has around 15,000 residents.

“So, we’re seeing a little bit of a dip but what that could be is fewer people were seeking testing over the holiday weekend,” Rhome said, adding that people are still seeking their first dose of vaccine. He said nearly 6,000 residents are now vaccinated, which is still less than half the population.

Over the recent holiday weekend, Rhome said “only” 28 positive cases were recorded, calling that good news because the average came to seven per day. But as of Monday, the county is back up to 46 positive cases since last week. Rhome said the signs are not clear if this December holiday season will be as bad as last year.

“Last November and December was, at that point, the highest in the state of Ohio. And here in Harrison County, you know, we were just inundated with new … cases on a daily basis,” Rhome recalled. “I don’t think it will go as bad this year.”

Sproul, however, fears that the season will be just as bad as 2020’s for Belmont County.

“So, we’re bumping up in numbers again,” Sproul said, adding that five to seven days is the average wait after an event like Thanksgiving for an uptick but said it could happen sooner. Already the county has had 38 cases reported in just one day. “Unfortunately it looks like we’re following the same pattern we did last year.”

Sproul said it may have been long enough since vaccines became available that people will be needing booster shots, noting that eight of the 22 hospitalized residents are vaccinated people.

“Again, we were hoping not to be in this position, but COVID’s not moved on and it’s still here unfortunately,” he said.

Rhome and Sproul also touched on the Omicron variant that reportedly sprouted out of South Africa. It was identified in 20 countries by Tuesday. A Nov. 28 World Health Organization report calls it a “variant of concern.”

Rhome said this new variant is able to be detected by the “tests that we’ve been using.”

“If you’re feeling symptomatic please isolate yourself immediately and call your doctor, or take a test,” Rhome said.

Sproul said officials are just monitoring for the new variant at this time, but there isn’t much data to go by as of now.

“But again, we’re watching it.”

Officials with the Monroe County Heath Department could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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