COVID-19 cases linked to Myrtle Beach raise new travel, contact concerns

by Kate Evans

More than 10 Berkeley County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 after coming home from a trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, said Berkeley/Morgan County Health Officer Dr. Terrence Reidy.

Reidy said they were part of a large group of people that knew each other and went to the southern beach together.

Health Department staff are doing contact tracing on those that tested positive to identify others that may have been exposed.

Reidy recommended that anyone who has traveled to Myrtle Beach self-quarantine themselves for 14 days. Governor Jim Justice also advised that they quarantine themselves and get tested for COVID-19.

Reidy said that Myrtle Beach and several West Virginia counties including Preston County and Kanawha County were also experiencing a jump in coronavirus cases. While the cases are associated with travel to Myrtle Beach, Reidy said they don’t know for sure where the individuals got infected.

Myrtle Beach has seen a huge increase in COVID-19 cases in the past 10 days, he said. Seven days ago Myrtle Beach had 536 cases. On Sunday they had 1,900 COVID-10 cases in people that live there.

Reidy noted that people probably came to Myrtle Beach from elsewhere and infected others in crowds. People could also become infected if they’re riding in a car or a bus for long hours with someone who is infected.

Reidy cautioned people not to visit an area with wide virus transmission. Health officials are currently testing individuals that have been there.

Reidy said that he wouldn’t go to Myrtle Beach or Ocean City right now. The same scenario is happening at other beaches like Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach in Delaware.

Behavior risks

When people go to the beach, often they’re going into multiple stores, milling about in crowds and going to big crowded restaurants and malls, he said.

The risk of infection all depends on how close you get to other people and how many people are around.

The best and safest practices for traveling and going places would be to shop when it’s not busy, keep your distance from others and avoid crowds and crowded places indoors and outdoors, he said.

Reidy said he wouldn’t go into every store checking out t-shirts. He advised getting take- out food, staying in one location and visiting less crowded areas.

“There are ways to vacation safely,” he stressed.

Avoid large gatherings

Outbreaks of COVID-19 recently surfaced in several churches in Greenbrier, Boone and Ohio Counties in West Virginia.

Reidy said attending large gatherings or crowded buildings including churches, political rallies, beaches and any place where there are a lot of people is a risk.

Reidy said he is concerned about the risk of COVID-19 infection if people attend Fourth of July fireworks.

Check ahead of travel

If traveling, one could check the rates of COVID-19 infection where you’re heading beforehand, but Reidy said that the infection rates can change quickly.

The United States has high rates of coronavirus and anywhere you go you’re at increased risk of exposure if you’re around crowds, he noted.

COVID-19 is spread by the respiratory route which is why wearing face masks and staying physically distant decreases the amount of germs you’re spreading, Reidy said. The virus doesn’t last long on surfaces. It needs human tissue to survive and flourish.

The best precautions for avoiding COVID-19 infection are wearing face masks, washing your hands frequently with soap and water, cleaning frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, handles, countertops and phones often and keeping away from crowds, he said. Use hand sanitizer if there’s no soap and water for hand-washing.

Stay home as much as possible unless you need essential items like food and medicine. Stay six feet away from others and stay home if you’re sick.

These are the same recommendations that have been repeated by public health officials for the last three months.

COVID-19 symptoms

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or that may have been around someone with the virus should be tested. Symptoms are fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell. Any of these symptoms can occur anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure to the virus, according to the CDC.

Seek immediate medical attention if you develop any of these emergency symptoms of COVID-19 — trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse or bluish lips or face.

COVID-19 case numbers

As of Monday afternoon there were 2,552 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in West Virginia with 89 deaths, according to Department of Health and Human Resources information.

Berkeley County leads the state with 433 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and ten deaths. Jefferson County had 216 cases and four deaths. Morgan County reported 19 confirmed cases and one probable case of coronavirus with no deaths.

Morgan County has been very fortunate with its low rate of COVID-19 infections, but it would take just one small outbreak to have the case numbers snowball pretty quickly, Reidy said.

Preston County had 20, then 24 cases, and on Sunday it spiraled to 64 cases from people that had returned from Myrtle Beach, he said.

State and local health officials continue to offer guidance to businesses and public agencies on how to safely operate establishments to reduce the virus spread.