UPDATE (MAY 29, 2020 4:55 p.m.):
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Monongalia County Health Department issued a release on Friday stating that all of the 1,000 free COVID-19 tests administered last week by the health department and the West Virginia National Guard came back negative.
“We are happy that a variety of individuals came out for free testing and we are happy to report this outcome,” said Dr. Lee B. Smith, MCHD executive director and county health officer.
The release stated that the testing, which took place at the Big Lots Parking lot on May 22 and Mountainview Elementary and the WVU Coliseum on May 23, was done in accordance with an order from Governor Jim Justice to provide free COVID-19 testing in specific counties to vulnerable populations, including minorities and those with special needs and/or without primary health care providers.
Health officials said that of the participants, 81.5% identified as white; 8.2% identified as black or African-American; 5.3% identified as Asian; 2.1% identified as multi-ethnic; 1.8% identified as Hispanic and in 1.1% of the tests, that information was not given.
“The governor was looking to have minority communities well represented,” Smith said. “In Monongalia County the African American population is about 3.4 percent who identify in that category and we had 8.2 percent identified themselves as African American. We were very pleased with the turnout and I am very happy.”
In terms of age ranges, 22.1% of the individuals were between the ages of 60 and 69, the highest percentage of any age range. In a statistical dead heat were three other age categories: 20-29, 14.7%; 70-79, 14.6% and 50-59, 14.1%.
Individuals ages 40-49 were the next highest group at 12.4%; those ages 30-39 represented 11.3% of those tested. The remaining age groups of those tested were 80-89, 3.8%; 10-19, 3.5%; 0-9, 2.1% and 90-plus, 0.8%. Five individuals, or 0.5%, did not provide an age.
The release detailed that testing was organized within a week’s notice and was pulled off with 42 individuals on May 22 at one location and 63 individuals at two locations on May 23.
“We are very pleased with these negative test results, but people still need to be aware that we still have COVID-19 in the county and that everyone should exercise the proper precautions to avoid getting it,” Dr. Smith said.
Health officials said that those precautions include wearing a mask in public, maintaining a social distance of six feet from others and washing hands frequently for 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
Monongalia County continues to open back up under Gov. Justice’s plan, The Comeback, but a spike in COVID-19 cases could result in a reversal of some of those trends, according to the release.
“If we see increasing number of COVID-19 cases, then commerce may slow, halt or return to closure of all but essential services,” Dr. Smith said. “We are dependent upon everyone’s cooperation to prevent a rise in the number of positive cases. Everyone in our county is in this together. We need to be reasonable in our decision making and remember that it is our actions that will determine how quickly things open up.”
As of May 4, the state has been under a “Safer at Home” order that lifted the restrictions of the March 24 “Stay at Home” order, in which residents were asked only to go out for essential jobs or essential errands.
“But at least 1 in 4 individuals with COVID-19 do not have symptoms, which can include fever, dry cough and trouble breathing,” Dr. Smith said. “Also, individuals with COVID-19 can shed the virus, and therefore spread the illness, before they develop symptoms. So, we really want to emphasize that people should be cautious when they are out and about.”
The MCHD is examining opportunities for additional testing, especially in vulnerable populations, according to the release.
“I am personally of the hope that we can do testing in other vulnerable populations,” Dr. Smith said. “For example the homeless and those with substance use disorder because we don’t really have good data or statistics on those and I think it would be really important to try and identify if these people are at risk or not.”
This weekend marks day 70 for MCHD’s response. Dr. Smith expressed his appreciation for the unsung heroes of public health. These include first responders, first receivers, the West Virginia National Guard, Monongalia County Commissioners, the justice system, Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office, politicians, emergency management, hospital staff and management, peer recovery coaches and everyone who has been on the front lines or in support of this response.
“It has been a team effort, and we at the health department want to thank everyone who has provided assistance to us,” Dr. Smith said.
To show support for his staff, county officials, the National Guard and all others who have been helping to wage the fight against COVID-19, Dr. Smith held an ice cream social at MCHD on Friday afternoon.
Dr. Smith said the fight against the pandemic is not over, but that he would like to celebrate the great amount of progress the county has made thus far. The well-attended event featured piñatas in the shape of the COVID-19 virus that were smashed by different departments of MCHD and other attendees.