State puts Morgan on gold status as active COVID cases nearly double

by Kate Evans & Kate Shunney

The West Virginia Division of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) put Morgan County on “gold” status for the second time in three days on Tuesday, October 13.

This week is the first time the county’s cases have risen to that level.

The gold color designation means the county has moved into heightened community transmission rates for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

According to the DHHR COVID map, Morgan County on Monday had 28 active cases of the disease, up from 15 active cases the previous Monday.

Morgan County had gone from gold on Sunday to yellow at 10 a.m. Monday morning after the county’s infection rate and positivity rate went down, said Berkeley-Morgan County Health Administrator Bill Kearns.

Under state guidelines, a county that is under a gold status must offer free testing clinics every 48 hours until the case levels got back to green or yellow, Kearns said.

In orange and red counties, testing clinics must be run every day.

Berkeley County is now considered an orange county and must have free COVID-19 testing clinics daily.

State school map

Morgan County was considered yellow in the Saturday, October 10 color-coded West Virginia School Alert System Map, indicating that the county had 3.1-9.9 cases of the COVID-19 virus per 100,000 or a 3%-3.9% positivity rate.

All other Morgan County Schools besides Paw Paw Schools are operating with students learning in-person this week.  Decisions about school operations for each week are based on a county’s COVID-19 status color on Saturday of the preceding week. The map is updated on the state Department of Education website every Saturday at 5 p.m.

Community transmission

Kearns attributed the jump in COVID-19 cases in both Morgan County and Berkeley County to community transmission with a few outbreaks.  Morgan County was at 65 cumulative COVID-19 cases last week with 10 active cases.

“Most of ours have been community spread,” he noted.

Kearns described community transmission as very broad spread that can’t be pinpointed to one agency, facility or outing.  He said one example of an outbreak would be something like a large-size wedding that has a lot of positive cases linked to it later. That’s not been the case in Morgan County.

COVID-19 advice

Kearns stressed that everyone should wear face masks outside of their homes, especially if they’re going to be close to other people.  He said you can’t rely on six feet distance as a magic number.  If the wind is blowing, aerosol droplets could be carried 20 feet or more.

Kearns also recommended hand-washing and social distancing.

“If you’re outside of your home, limit your exposure to others as we’re still in the middle of a very, very active pandemic,” Kearns said.

State health protocols also impose limits to public gatherings when a county has reached gold status. Strictly social gatherings are to be limited to 10 people, though essential business activity doesn’t have to abide by that limit.

Kearns said residents should think about anyone they come into contact with.  They could carry the virus on to others that are very vulnerable like the elderly or those with weak immune systems and those individuals could succumb to COVID-19.

Kearns said he’s worked in the public health system for 25 years and this is the worst they’ve ever been though — worse than SARS and worse than the swine flu.  It’s really taken its toll on health officials, both physically and mentally.

Kearns noted that if we all just think and treat others compassionately, “together we can get through this.”