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Brooke County turns red on virus map

Brooke County health officials are urging residents to take measures to prevent spread of COVID-19, including avoiding large gatherings, as the county as reached level red for both its rate of infection and the percentage of residents who have tested positive.

On Monday, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported the county had an infection rate of 101.58 cases per 100,000 residents during the last week and a positivity rate of 8.11 percent, a figure based on the number of positive cases in relation to total tests.

“We’re seeing substantial community spread,” said Mike Bolen, administrator of the Brooke County Health Department, who recommended everyone avoid large gatherings when not absolutely necessary.

Bolen acknowledged many are accustomed to getting together with family members on Thanksgiving Day but suggested they consider smaller gatherings and if experiencing any potential symptom of the virus, to avoid any contact with others.

“It’s a virus and needs people gathering together to spread and that’s what’s happening,” he said.

Bolen said there currently are about 130 confirmed active cases in the county, including 10 who are hospitalized, as well as about 80 deemed probable because the individuals displayed COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive through the less reliable rapid test.

Positive cases at three Brooke County nursing homes and a housing facility there have been counted as one because of their limited contact outside those buildings.

Bolen said while the number at most of those facilities initially was small, it is growing.

Citing the health department’s policy, he hasn’t identified the four while stating their administrators must notify the residents’ family members.

Brooke County schools have been closed since Nov. 12, after the discovery of 10 individuals who tested positive after having had contact with potentially nearly 150 other staff and students. And they aren’t slated to reopen until Dec. 3 following an order issued for all of the state’s schools by Gov. Jim Justice on Nov. 13.

Bolen said the county’s status at that time will determine whether students return to classrooms.

“If the map remains red on Saturday (Dec. 4), they will be having virtual school,” he said.

Officials in Brooke and Hancock counties have reported an average of 18 to 30 new cases each day in recent weeks.

On Monday the Hancock County Health Department reported a 73.39 infection rate, with 216 active cases there, including eight who were hospitalized.

Health departments in West Virginia counties seeing a rise in cases have been advised by state officials to offer free testing. The testing is available to anyone, regardless of their residency.

The Brooke County department will conduct drive-up testings from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today outside Brooke Middle School near Bruin Drive and Cross Creek Road.

The Hancock County department is conducting drive-up testing from noon to 4 p.m. today outside the John D. Rockefeller Career Center at 95 Rockyside Road in New Cumberland.

Participants of both should wear a mask and bring an ID. No proof of insurance is required.

Local health officials have reported that of 239 who participated in the department’s last drive-up testing on Nov. 17 outside the Weirton Salvation Army, 33 tested positive.

Of them, 19 were from Brooke County, 11 were from Hancock County and three were from elsewhere.

Last week, the Brooke County Commission called for the county courthouse to be closed this week while it was cleaned and disinfected following the discovery of a positive case there.

After this week, those planning to go to the courthouse are asked to make an appoinment by calling the department they plan to visit.

The following are phone numbers for the various departments: County clerk’s office, (304) 737-3661; circuit clerk’s office, 737-3662; sheriff’s department (non-emergency), 737-3660; tax office, 737-3663; assessor’s office, 737-3667; prosecutor’s office, 737-4185; and magistrate’s office, 737-1321.

Those who owe taxes may pay them online. For information, call the number above or visit tax.brookecountysheriff.com.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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