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Wood County continues to see increase in COVID-19 cases

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PARKERSBURG — On Thursday, June 25, Wood County had a total 59 positive COVID-19 cases, by the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department’s count.

As of Wednesday, that number had jumped to 86, an increase of nearly 46 percent.

“Right now, I think we’re at a point where it’s either going to go up or down,” said Dr. Charles Whitaker III, medical officer for the Health Department, which covers Wood, Calhoun, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane and Wirt counties. “And hopefully, it’s going to go down and we don’t end up with increased restrictions from the state.”

But that depends, he said, on the effort residents put into preventing the spread through activities that have become common refrains in recent months: frequent hand-washing, social distancing and wearing masks.

“We know how to stop it,” Whitaker said. “It’s people doing it. It’s people saying, ‘I’m going to be concerned about the folks around me.'”

The local department did not release updated numbers Thursday, but the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources listed Wood County with 94 cases Thursday evening, up from 92 that morning. Usually, state numbers lag behind the local statistics, such as when DHHR listed the county with 79 positive cases on Wednesday.

On Sunday, June 28, the Health Department announced 15 new positive cases over a three-day period, most of them connected to “a gathering in the area.” There have been 11 more since June 29, some connected to travel and some involving “people that were in contact with people” at the gathering, said Carrie Brainard, public information officer for the Health Department.

While the department does not disclose a great deal of specific information to prevent COVID-19 patients from being identified, Brainard said this week it was a social gathering, attended by friends and family from West Virginia, mostly Wood County, and Ohio.

“We have been told that it was outside,” she said via email. “Most (attendees) were not wearing masks.”

Brainard said there were between 20 and 30 people at the gathering. That’s well below the maximum number allowed since it was increased from 25 to 100 in early June via an executive order from West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice.

Although being outdoors can make it easier to practice social distancing, it does not necessarily negate the need for a mask.

“If you’re in close contact, you’re still going to spread the germs, whether you’re inside or outside,” Brainard said.

Wearing masks is not mandated in West Virginia, although Justice said Thursday he is considering it. The practice is strongly encouraged by state and local health officials as a means of preventing the spread of the virus.

“The more mask usage, the lower the spread is going to be,” Whitaker said. “My mask protects you; your mask protects me.”

It’s important to wear masks even in the workplace, he said. That doesn’t just protect against members of the public who might bring the virus in but co-workers who may unknowingly be infected.

On the same day the positive tests related to the gathering were announced, the department said at least two cases were linked to travel to Myrtle Beach, S.C., located in Horry County, a significant hot spot for new COVID-19 cases. Brainard said it was not clear whether anyone at the gathering had been to Myrtle Beach recently.

“It has been difficult to get accurate information because individuals that have tested positive do not like giving out information on their friends,” Brainard said. “We are not here to judge but to make sure that if a person was exposed that they take precautions to not continue to spread it to others.”

Brainard and Whitaker said there is no penalty for not cooperating with the department in its contact tracing efforts, but not doing so can result in the virus spreading more.

“Please be honest with the Health Department so we can track them back,” Whitaker said. “Contact tracing is going to be what ends it and what keeps it under control.”

The Health Department can request a quarantine order from a judge. Whitaker said that hasn’t happened in Wood County but it has been utilized in some surrounding counties.

Whether additional regulations will be imposed on the county depends on “what happens with this outbreak,” Whitaker said. “Are there going to be second, third and fourth … infections?”

“We’ve got to limit those cases,” he said. “If you’re sick, stay at home. … Get tested. Don’t have contacts until you get your results back.”

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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