County COVID-19 cases nearly double in a week

by Kate Evans

Morgan County has experienced another surge in COVID-19 cases in the past week, going from 65 county residents having active cases of the virus on Monday, November  30 to 112 residents with active cases of the illness on Monday, December 7.

On Sunday alone, 30 more cases were confirmed.

Some 112 Morgan County residents currently have cases of the disease now, and 258 county residents have recovered from the highly infectious respiratory disease.

There have been two Morgan County deaths from COVID-19. The first was an 88-year old man.  No specific information has been released about the age or gender of the second person to die of the disease.

Morgan County Schools

Morgan County Schools has so far reported a total of 14 staff members and students infected by COVID-19 since September.

Cases have been one Paw Paw High School student, one Paw Paw Schools student, two Berkeley Springs High School staff members and one student, three Pleasant View Elementary staff members, two Warm Springs Middle School staff members, one Warm Springs Intermediate School student, one central office employee, one additional school system employee and one individual associated with the Berkeley Springs High School volleyball team.

The West Virginia Department of Education school COVID-19 lists Pleasant View Elementary on their “outbreak” listing, saying the school had three positive cases of COVID-19 as of November 30.

A confirmed outbreak is two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases among students/staff from separate households within a 14-day period in a single classroom or core group.

Morgan County School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle said in a Monday, December 7 press release that a third Pleasant View Elementary staff member that had tested positive for COVID-19 along with the two Warm Springs Middle School staff members noted above.

Tuttle said that the two cases of the virus at the middle school were unrelated.

Pleasant View Elementary was closed through December 4 to all staff and students for deep cleaning.

Extended care cases

War Memorial Hospital Extended Care Facility currently has two staff members with the virus.

It previously had three positive staff cases for a total of five cumulative COVID-19 cases.  There have been no positive cases in any residents at the facility.

Stonerise HealthCare’s Berkeley Springs facility has had no cases of COVID-19 in residents or staff so far, according to company and state reports.

No new restrictions

Morgan County Commission President Joel Tuttle was asked if the county was going to reinstitute any county-level restrictions on gatherings, public meetings or courthouse operations with the rise in local COVID-19 cases.

“It is unfortunate to see the rise in current positive COVID cases here in Morgan County but the spike in cases over the weekend was somewhat expected given the recent Thanksgiving holiday.

“At this time, the County Commission does not have any plans to limit gatherings or public meetings above and beyond the current restrictions put in place by Governor Justice.  As always, we encourage everyone to continue to follow recommended guidelines and limit their exposure to the greatest extent possible,” said Commissioner Tuttle in an email Monday.

Health officer’s comments

Dr. Terrence Reidy, chief medical officer for the Berkeley-Morgan Health Department.

Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department Health Officer Dr. Terrence Reidy said that leaders need to use their elected position and their voice to promote the cautions that people should take to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Many leaders have been pretty silent, except for the Governor.

Some leaders have acted as if it’s not a serious disease or that it would go away after the election, but COVID-19 is a very serious disease, Reidy said.  Health officials are seeing at least a death a day in the Eastern Panhandle.  Maryland and Virginia have also seen a similar surge in virus cases and deaths.

Reidy said the Health Department is seeing a jump in COVID-19 cases from gatherings like birthday parties, Halloween parties, weddings, funerals and church.

People sit apart in church pews but stand close together outside for fellowship and talk without face masks on. People don’t need to get together for lunch or coffee.  They take off their face masks and that’s how the virus spreads.

People need to become knowledgeable about quarantining after they’ve tested positive or been exposed to the virus.  They also need to let the people they’ve been in contact with know that they should quarantine.  There are so many virus cases that the Health Departments can’t keep up with all the contact tracing, Reidy said.

Morgan County has a large elderly population with some residents that have multiple health problems that make them more at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, he noted.

The hospitals in Berkeley County and at Valley Health are getting a lot of COVID-19 cases.  Dr. Reidy expected more local deaths from the virus.

Reidy said schools are doing a good job with social distancing, masks and meals in classrooms.  When schools go remote, the virus is still spreading, which indicates that children aren’t primarily the spreaders — adults are.

Stopping the spread

Stopping the spread of COVID-19 will come from not having big events, Christmas parties or large public meetings.

Having employees work remotely and other better workplace and social practices will also help.  Social distancing, wearing face masks, staying six feet away from others, limiting exposure, frequent hand-washing with soap and water and use of hand sanitizer will also help.

Cover your coughs and sneezes. Keep your hands away from your face. Clean and disinfect frequently used objects and surfaces often. Stay home if you’re sick.

“Avoid the holiday gatherings, as hard as it is. It’s not how you want to remember Christmas –people dying.” Reidy said.

If people can just hold on, a vaccine is coming soon, he stressed.

Surrounding counties

Cases in surrounding counties have also skyrocketed.  Berkeley County has 1666 active cases of COVID-19 with 3,932 total confirmed and probable cases along with 31 deaths from the virus.

Jefferson County has 727 active cases, 1,612 total confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 16 deaths.

Hampshire County has 198 active cases of the virus, 460 total confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 4 deaths.

Mineral County has 967 active cases, 1,629 total confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 30 deaths.