COVID-19 still evolving

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — COVID-19 has not vanished and, in fact, continues to produce new variants that can be a cause for concern.

People from all walks of life continue to contract the virus, and the Belmont County Jail recently had to quarantine a dorm following positive tests.

“Nothing major, there’s still people out there that get the COVID,” Sheriff Dave Lucas said. “Between our medical staff and my employees, we keep a very tight ship out there. If someone comes in and they tested positive for COVID, wherever they’re at, we quarantine the whole dorm. So that’s basically it. We had a couple positives, so we quarantined the whole dorm so it doesn’t spread out into the jail.”

Lucas added that the dorms hold 12 inmates each.

“We’re looking at a maximum of 12 people (if it is at capacity). I don’t know the exact number, but we just quarantined the dorm,” he said, noting he was not aware of any positive or quarantined staff or guards. “As of right now, I don’t think so.”

He said he did not have the exact date of the positive test results and beginning of quarantine at hand.

“They’re probably at least halfway through, if not all the way through,” Lucas said last week.

He said like other institutions and agencies, the jail has had prior instances of inmates testing positive for COVID-19.

“From the initial outbreak when COVID all started, everybody was having problems. It’s rare now and far between, but it’s still out there,” Lucas said. “The medical staff and my personnel, they do a terrific job of testing and keeping track of that. We’re doing our job.”

Overcrowding often plagued the jail in pre-COVID years, with officials having to house inmates outside of the county at a cost. Inmate numbers had gone down during the pandemic as county court judges looked for ways to avoid jail sentences. The 144-bed jail facility currency houses 115 male inmates and 36 female inmates for a total of 151.

There is concern surrounding a new mutant coronavirus strain, a subvariant of the omicron family according to researchers at places such as Ohio State University and John Hopkins University.

Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul and Harrison County Health Department Administrator Garen Rhome were not available to comment last week, but Sproul said via text that the new mutation has been a cause for concern.

In a Monday update to its Facebook page, Harrison County’s Health Department reported 36 new confirmed cases between May 20 and June 2. It placed active cases at 28, with 3,310 total cases, 3,223 recoveries and 59 deaths associated with the virus.

The Belmont County Health Department has ceased counting and contact tracing COVID patients. According to coronavirus.ohio.gov, though, there have been 16,111 total cases in Belmont County since the pandemic’s onset and 15,483 recoveries, with 578 hospitalizations and 311 deaths associated with the virus.

The state site also lists Monroe County as having had 3,545 total cases, with 3,416 recoveries, 224 hospitalizations and 82 people who have died after contracting COVID-19.

Kara Dixon, director of nursing at the Monroe County Health Department, said as of May, the department reported 52 positive cases.

“Now that number does not mean a whole heck of a lot anymore because we’re no longer doing tracing,” she said. “A lot of people aren’t reporting it and are just staying home and doing what they need to do.”

Dixon said this represents an increase over March and April cases, although she did not have exact numbers at hand.

“It was significant,” she said.

Dixon did not speculate on the seriousness of more recent cases.

“We have had some that were hospitalized. Because we’re not tracing and making contact with these people, I can’t tell you whether they had underlying conditions that made the COVID a little more severe for them or not,” she said. “We can’t say whether COVID was the cause of their hospitalization or if they were there for a knee replacement and tested positive when they had surgery. We get very little information.”

The situation is similar regarding deaths associated with the virus.

“We’ve had some deaths here, but (they might have been) caused by other reasons,” she said. “It takes awhile for us to get reports of a COVID death, too, because we’re not following them. We have to see it on a death certificate, so it takes longer than it did.”

Dixon said she is not aware of any possibility of reinstituting contact tracing or other measures at this time, but she said the office would follow any instructions from the Ohio Department of Health. She said the office receives weekly updates of what to expect and what might be coming.

“We do a call with ODH every Wednesday,” she said.

She added those who are vulnerable due to age or underlying conditions are advised to take precautions.

“We are recommending them getting the boosters. A lot of people are traveling and having summer get-togethers,” she said. “Especially those immunocompromised to keep them healthy, and for everyone else to wash their hands and do the best that they can.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today