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People wear face masks while walking at Ritter Park on May 17 in Huntington. Health officials in West Virginia hope residents keep up protective measures such as wearing masks as states begin to see an increase of novel coronavirus cases.

CHARLESTON — Health officials in West Virginia are keeping a watchful eye on vulnerable parts of the state as other states begin to see an increase of novel coronavirus cases.

State coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh said Friday he fears a second wave of the virus if West Virginians let their guards down.

State health officials announced this week they are working with local health officials in the southern counties to assess the pandemic situation as reproduction values increase. Marsh said Friday those counties include Logan, Boone, Mingo and McDowell.

Marsh said a group at West Virginia University led by Dr. Sally Hodder, an infectious disease expert, is monitoring virus reproduction at the local level. He said they have grouped regions of the state together because some counties, like those in the southern part of the state, don’t have high case counts.

The reproductive value shows how quickly a virus could spread. If the value is at one, it means one person with COVID-19 will likely spread the virus to one other person. The lower the number, the less the virus is spreading.

Marsh said southern West Virginia has always been a part of the state they have worried about. It’s more insular, but has popular tourist attractions like the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. It is also home to a high percentage of vulnerable West Virginians — those more likely to develop serious complications if contracting COVID-19.

The state Bureau for Public Health is working with the counties to do contact tracing and more testing to get a better idea of the situation, Marsh said.

Free testing started Friday in Logan County and will continue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 13, at the Cora Volunteer Fire Department, 28 Aldridge Branch, Logan. The testing is free for all, and even those without symptoms are encouraged to participate. An I.D. is required, and those under the age of 18 must have a parent or guardian present.

Marsh said more free testing sites in other southern counties will be announced soon.

During Gov. Jim Justice’s daily press briefing Friday, Marsh said the state is working with the larger hospital systems in the state, including Mountain Health Network in Huntington, to assist and support smaller hospitals in the state. Those systems are ready to step up and provide additional support should an outbreak occur in a more rural area of the state with less health care access.

“We anticipate seeing issues as we move forward, and we feel we are in good shape to handle it,” Marsh said.

Justice also acknowledged future outbreaks are likely, but both he and Marsh said if West Virginians keep doing what they’ve been doing — wearing masks, socially distancing, washing their hands frequently and avoiding large crowds — the state will be OK. But Marsh said he does worry some areas of the state, especially those that never saw many cases of the virus in the first place, may let their guards down.

“I don’t want to come across as trying to scare people or that I’m trying to tell people what to do,” Marsh said. “We are just giving the best advice we can to keep communities as safe as possible. I recognize and respect each one of us can make the decision we think is right for us. But as you look around the world, we have a vulnerable population. We’ve made such good progress, and I continue to pray we stay together and don’t split down the middle.”

Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said the state’s reopening has been done slowly to prevent a second wave, which he says they all worry about. He said following the governor’s advice, which comes straight from the health experts, will prevent West Virginia from becoming like the 19 states seeing increases in cases or the nine with increased hospitalizations.

Two new deaths related to the virus were reported Friday — a 73-year-old man from Mingo County and a 78-year-old man from Berkeley County. The total fatalities related to COVID-19 in West Virginia is now 88.

There were 32 new positive cases reported, for a total of 2,249, and 3,082 new test results received by the state.

Cases per county (case confirmed by lab test/probable case) are: Barbour (10/0), Berkeley (359/17), Boone (17/0), Braxton (3/0), Brooke (4/1), Cabell (70/2), Calhoun (2/0), Clay (8/0), Fayette (54/0), Gilmer (10/0), Grant (15/1), Greenbrier (11/0), Hampshire (35/0), Hancock (18/2), Hardy (40/0), Harrison (42/1), Jackson (141/0), Jefferson (200/5), Kanawha (240/7), Lewis (8/0), Lincoln (5/0), Logan (21/0), Marion (51 /2), Marshall (36/1), Mason (15/0), McDowell (6/0), Mercer (13/0), Mineral (49/2), Mingo (9/3), Monongalia (128/14), Monroe (8/1), Morgan (18/1), Nicholas (7/0), Ohio (53/0), Pendleton (11 /2), Pleasants (3/1), Pocahontas (20/1), Preston (19/5), Putnam (41/1), Raleigh (22/1), Randolph (141/0), Ritchie (2/0), Roane (10/0), Summers (1/0), Taylor (9/1), Tucker (5/0), Tyler (3/0), Upshur (6/1), Wayne (104/0), Wetzel (9/0), Wirt (4/0), Wood (52 /3) and Wyoming (5/0).

In Ohio, there were 420 new cases of COVID-19 reported statewide Friday, for a total of 40,424, and 18 new deaths, for a total of 2,508.

In Kentucky, there were 220 new positive cases reported Friday, for a total of 12,166. The number is higher than normal because Thursday’s reporting was low due to an issue with the reporting system. Four new deaths were reported, for a total of 497.

Across the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 2,016,027 cases of COVID-19 on Friday. There have been 113,914 deaths related to the virus.

The Associated Press reports that for most people, the novel coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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