Morgan COVID-19 cases low, more tests expected

by Kate Evans
State testing data says Morgan County has had 17 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases, with one probable case and 16 local residents recovered from the respiratory disease.  There have been no deaths from coronavirus in the county.

Berkeley County now has 276 COVID-19 cases as of Monday May 25, with six deaths, 10 probable cases and 159 recovered cases.  Berkeley County has the most known confirmed cases of the virus in West Virginia.

West Virginia currently has 1,774 probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases with 72 deaths and 1,135 residents who have recovered from the disease.

Dr. Kevin McLaughlin, Deputy Health Officer for the Morgan-Berkeley County Health Department, said the new West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR) dashboard shows how many positive COVID-19 cases counties had and how many cases had recovered and been released from isolation to normal activities.

The dashboard also shows demographics for each county, trends, hospitalizations and cases at long term care facilities.

Nearly 34% of the positive Morgan County COVID-19 cases were 50-59 years old and almost 28% were 60-69 years old. Ages 20-29, 40-49 and 70+ each accounted for around 11% of the positive cases. Almost 61% were male and 100% of residents with the disease were white. The age range of those infected was 20 to 70+.

Asymptomatic cases

McLaughlin said 870 people were tested for COVID-19 in Berkeley County last week.  Some 14 people tested positive with eight having mild symptoms and six people having no symptoms at all, which is called asymptomatic.

Part of the problem with the spread of coronavirus is that people can have the virus and be asymptomatic for 5-7 days but are infectious at 2-3 days and have had several days to spread the virus, Dr. McLaughlin noted.

Symptoms of COVID-19 coronavirus include 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.

Contract tracing

McLaughlin said the coronavirus contact tracing is being done in-house by local health department employees and with the added staff of the National Guard based out of Martinsburg. The National Guard is tasked with education, contact tracing and testing.

McLaughlin said the importance of contact tracing is that if you’re positive and you’ve exposed someone else, they want to know your contacts to inform your contacts that they may have been exposed.

The spread of COVID-19 increases every several days with one infected person passing the virus to several others.  They want to stop that sequential spread of the coronavirus every few days.

McLaughlin said the number of coronavirus cases in the Eastern Panhandle increasing is a concern especially since residents shop and travel to surrounding counties that include Washington County, Maryland, Frederick County in Maryland and Virginia and northern Virginia.

He expects the number of Morgan County cases to go up.

Testing, vaccine

Dr. McLaughlin said that the PCR test for COVID-19 tests a person at that point in time.  Someone could get tested and then go to a store and contract coronavirus. That point-in-time test doesn’t predict the future or show the past. If someone had COVID-19 in March, they may test negative now.

The COVID-19 antibody test is helpful in finding out how many people have been exposed to and made antibodies to the virus or have acquired immunity, he said.

Doctors and scientists have too many questions like does your immunity wane or could you get the virus again to know what it all means in the long run.

“We learn more every day,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin noted that most vaccines take a minimum of 12-18 months to be created. They have to be very careful about making a vaccine so it’s good for as many people as possible and very safe to vaccinate a lot of people with it.  He estimated that it would be January to March, 2021 at the earliest before a vaccine for COVID-19 was ready.

McLaughlin said that there may be an opportunity to have a COVID-19 testing site in Morgan County in the near future that’s similar to the mass testing site they just had in Berkeley County.

For now, anyone in Morgan County can go to the Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg, the Meritus Medical Center in Hagerstown and the Valley Health Medical Practice at Rutherford Crossing in Winchester for COVID-19 testing.

There are also several medical practices in Berkeley Springs and Morgan County where testing is available, he said.

Face coverings protect

Face coverings have been shown to decrease person-to-person spread of the virus, McLaughlin said.

The virus can be spread by normal secretions produced by breathing, singing, talking and yelling. If you’re asymptomatic, the distance  for emitting these secretions is reduced with a face covering. Your face mask/covering protects others and their face mask/covering protects you, he stressed.

McLaughlin said that wearing face masks or face coverings, social distancing, washing hands often, having good household cleanliness and self-quarantining and self-isolating oneself from family members in the home were important if one tested positive for coronavirus. Stay six feet away from others and stay home if you’re sick.

“West Virginians need to be mindful and as smart as they can be so we can keep this virus at bay,” McLaughlin said.