UPDATE: Monongalia County Health Department official speaks about large spike of COVID-19 cases in the county


UPDATE: (07/07/2020 5:05 p.m.)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Monongalia County Health Department issued a press release Sunday announcing an at least 61.7% increase in diagnosed positive cases since the start of July.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the first five days of the month account for 38.2% of all cases recorded in Monongalia County since the first positive case was announced on March 19.

Dr. Lee Smith

“Monongalia County has seen a dramatic spike in COVID-19,” said Dr. Lee B. Smith, MCHD executive director and county health officer. “Theses cases are from restaurants and bar staff, as well as gyms and fitness centers, vacations, barbecues and travel-related exposures.”

Smith says, “This has resulted in widespread community-acquired COVID-19 from not wearing masks and not practicing social distancing”.

“Things have been moving at breakneck speed,” Dr. Smith said. “The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health designates more than three cases at any given location as an outbreak, and currently, there are three officially designated outbreaks in Monongalia County, with at least that many unofficial outbreaks that have not yet been given an outbreak number.”

On Wednesday, July 1, there were 162 reported diagnosed cases in Monongalia County, accumulated since March 19. Since July 1, numbers began increasing significantly. Cases went up by four on July 1; 16 on July 2; 14 on July 3; 29 on July 4 and 37 on July 5. Also, there are additional cases expected to be confirmed.

As of the afternoon of July 7, Smith confirmed there were more than 300 cases in the county. He said if you look at the age breakdown, more than 100 cases are in the 17-29-year-old group, so 77 percent of the cases. And then the 30-49-year-old group is about 20 percent of our cases and then the above 50-year-old group is the remaining.

Smith said there is an extensive contact tracing effort going on at MCHD with the help of the state government. Contact tracers have been met with belligerent and uncooperative individuals, which has hindered the process. He said people only see the effort as tracing 130 or so people who have been infected, but it is more than that.

“If you think about individuals in the age group from 17-29, in that group there are people with a lot of social contacts and it’s not unusual for each positive case, of which there are over 100, for them to each have 20 or so contacts in their social group,” Smith said. “It’s not that we’re trying to rundown 130 positives every day, we’re trying to run down a couple of thousand contacts to try and get them to observe quarantine because the object here is to break the cycle of infection.”

Smith said because this outbreak is mostly affecting the young, there is a tendency to blame West Virginia University, but that would be inaccurate. He said only one-third of cases are associated with WVU. Two-thirds of the cases are not associated with West Virginia University, but are from travel, vacation, going to gymnasiums, bars, restaurants and the common denominator is that people are not observing social distancing, nor wearing masks, he said.

There is a strong sense of COVID-19 fatigue, Smith said, especially now that it’s summer and people want to go out and enjoy the weather. However, in doing so, many people are throwing themselves in harm’s way and not observing the safety precautions.

Smith said he is not suggesting that people stay in hiding, on the contrary, he wants them to go back to their normal lives, but accept that there are some new norms.

“I think part of the new normal has got to be an awareness of how this virus has spread and what reasonable people can prevent it from continuing to spread like wildfire,” Smith said. “Some people will make the case that we’re not seeing people die from this and knock on wood, we’ve not seen a death in Monongalia County for several months. And I hope I’m not jinxing myself with that, but if we have hundreds of people getting sick, there will be some bad results for somebody and I would just not wish that on any particular family, particularly if it can be avoided.”

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