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We in the Ohio Valley have had our first death from COVID-19, a 92-year-old Belmont County man. Public health officials noted the man had underlying medical conditions that put him more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The tragedy occurred as the emotional drain of confronting the virus increased among many area residents. For men and women accustomed to getting up and going to work in the morning, enforced idleness is tough both psychologically and financially. For children normally in school, the impact has been enormous, too.

For a few weeks, we in Eastern Ohio and the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia suffered comparatively little from COVID-19. That is changing. As of Monday afternoon, the total number of confirmed cases of the disease in our 10-county region was 75.

It is almost certain that by the time you read this, the count will be considerably higher.

During the past few days, COVID-19 spread to new counties, with Monroe, Brooke and Tyler added to the list. Again as of Tuesday afternoon, only Harrison County had not reported local cases.

Looking at some statistics and projections on the epidemic may be seen by some as reasons for optimism. For example, the percentage of West Virginians testing positive for the coronavirus is about 3.42.

Models developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington project that in West Virginia, peak use of health care resources is expected to occur April 16. In Ohio, the projection is for April 18.

But if you are tempted to take the projections as really good news, understand that the cost to reach those peak dates will be terrible. By April 17, West Virginia will be suffering 17 COVID-19 deaths each day, the institute projects. In Ohio, the death toll is expected to reach 29 per day by Sunday.

No one can predict the future. The institute’s projections may be wrong — but it is extremely unlikely they are overly pessimistic.

There is no cause for us to relax the steps taken thus far to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Yes, times are tough — but if we let up now, they may be even more tragic than the models indicate.

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