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Five Myrtle Beach-related COVID-19 cases traced in Cabell County, one in Putnam

HUNTINGTON — Five vacation-related COVID-19 cases in Cabell County and one in Putnam County are suspected as outbreaks continue to pop up across the state among people who recently traveled to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department is investigating those cases that appear to be related to visits to the popular vacation spot, according to a news release Thursday.

The department’s case contact tracing unit is nearing the end of the interviewing process, and those affected are being advised to self-quarantine.

“We have definitely ascertained that we have travel-associated multiple cases, and we think it’s important for the public to understand that the risks of getting this disease are the same as they have been all along,” said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. “As we open up, we need to make sure we have an understanding of what risks we’re taking on and how we can continue to reduce those risks.”

Although Kilkenny said precautions should be taken when traveling or visiting family anywhere, Myrtle Beach, which sees over 19 million visitors in a typical year, has extended its state of emergency and some businesses in the area have doubled back on reopening.

On Wednesday, Horry County, South Carolina, in which the city is located, saw its highest single-day increase since the start of the crisis, with 120 new cases, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The first Myrtle Beach-related COVID-19 cases, which have now risen to 12, appeared in Preston County this week, and the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department has also traced three cases of the virus to those who recently returned from the destination.

Kanawha health officials are now recommending anyone who has traveled to Myrtle Beach or surrounding destinations be tested for the virus, and officials in Putnam County said they are continuing to monitor the situation.

While Cabell County is not asking residents who have traveled to Myrtle Beach to get tested unless they are showing symptoms, it’s something Kilkenny said would be looked into.

“We are going to investigate further for any additional testing that would be available, but certainly anyone who has concerns about recent travel to Myrtle Beach and any kind of symptoms, even if they are mild, can get tested at any of the testing sites in Cabell County,” he said. “Testing is readily available in Cabell County for people with symptoms, but we would require a special authorization to test people without symptoms, and right now we do not have those authorizations.”

Testing is available at Marshall Health and Mountain Health Network locations, Valley Health, MedExpress and OVP Health facilities.

Kilkenny said in the meantime residents should continue to be cautious to protect themselves and others.

“Prevention will always beat case contact tracing in the control of an infectious disease,” Kilkenny said. “Cabell Countians have done a great job of protecting themselves, but the reopening and reconnecting we are enjoying increases our risks and requires us to pay extra attention to taking care of each other.”

Best practices like hand-washing, wearing face coverings, avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth, covering coughs and sneezes and avoiding close contact in general should still be followed, and the guidance is the same, Kilkenny said. People just need to continue to act on it.

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department is operating a call center to answer questions and concerns, with hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The call center can be reached at 304-526-6544.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported 144,347 total laboratory results received for COVID-19, with 2,418 total cases and 88 deaths statewide.

In Ohio, there were 43,122 total cases of COVID-19 reported in the state as of 2 p.m. Thursday. There have been 2,633 deaths related to the virus.

In Kentucky, there were 13,197 cases of COVID-19 reported as of 4 p.m. Thursday, 234 of which were newly confirmed. There were also three new deaths, raising the total to 520 Kentuckians lost to the virus.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,155,572 total cases of the virus as of Thursday, with 117,632 deaths.

Heritage Farm gears up for reopening

HUNTINGTON — Heritage Farm Museum and Village plans to open next month and is making strides to debut two new outdoor exhibits when it does.

After announcing its closure March 13 due to COVID-19 concerns, Heritage Farm got to work incorporating a number of safety precautions. The attraction is set to open at 10 a.m. July 2.

In addition to social distancing measures, the Smithsonian affiliate will be unveiling a new “Appalachian Backyard Adventure” exhibit, which consists of a new nature center, a previously announced project, and a treetop canopy walkway.

The nature center will give visitors a chance to explore amphibians, reptiles and fish native to West Virginia and Appalachia and will lead into the walkway, made up of five tree platforms connected by two suspension bridges that span 120 feet in total.

Audy Perry, executive director of Heritage Farm, says the idea for an outdoor exhibit came at just the right time.

“We figured when the world opens back up, outside wins over inside. So we wanted to add more outside options,” said Perry.

The nature center is Heritage Farm’s way of showing off West Virginia’s impressive amount of wildlife, according to Perry.

“We have some of the largest diversity, especially in the amphibian world, but nobody ever gets to see it because they’re hidden in plain sight, so we have some of these really cool features and will get to show you what’s beneath our feet,” Perry said.

The exhibit is a labor of love funded by the combined efforts of Heritage Farm with state and local donations including donors like the Foundation for the Tri-State.

The money from the community went toward sponsoring tanks for different species in the nature center and creating an interactive experience along the canopy walk.

The canopy will offer a rope course, geared toward children, that starts and ends at the same platform as the regular path.

“The whole family can enjoy it at the same time. Those who want the nice walk in the treetops can take the bridge, and the kids or adults that want to go through the more challenging rope course can do that,” Perry said.

To follow social distancing guidelines, the museum also worked to create a new trajectory for tours on the property.

The tour will follow Heritage trail, which will be socially distant between groups and flow in one direction, per the guidelines prescribed by Gov. Jim Justice.

“It’s about a mile loop, so even if it was one person at a time and 6 feet apart, there would still be room for a lot of people,” said Perry.

The museum will also offer outside hand-washing stations and hand-sanitizing stations, and will require all staff members to wear a mask. For visitors, masks will not be required, but are recommended for inside exhibits.

Right now Heritage Farm does not plan to reopen its lodging or reception services to the public.

In celebration of the new exhibits and reopening, Heritage Farm is offering a promotion for all who buy the 2020 family pass before June 30, adding on pass benefits for the year of 2021 at no additional charge.

For the months of July and August, the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays; from 3 to 9 p.m. Fridays; and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Marshall University plans rescheduled spring commencement for Aug. 8

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University says it is planning its rescheduled spring commencement ceremony for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 8 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

The event will recognize 1,597 students who graduated with degrees in May 2020, with 524 of those graduating with honors.

Although university officials do not anticipate all graduates will attend the ceremony, the outdoor stadium location should allow for public health guidelines to be followed, while attendees honor the 2020 graduates in a safe way, said Sonja Cantrell-Johnson, university registrar, in a news release.

“We are working closely with our Office of Environmental Health and Safety to ensure we provide our graduates with as close to a traditional commencement ceremony as possible,” Cantrell-Johnson said. “We’ve made several changes to the event to provide a safe environment for those who wish to attend.”

Some of the changes include:

  • All attendees will be required to wear masks.
  • Social distancing protocols will be in place, with faculty representatives assigned to place graduates at least 6 feet apart.
  • To minimize the number of attendees, graduates will receive four guest tickets for family members or friends who want to attend. More details are forthcoming as to when these will be available. Graduates will not need tickets to access the stadium.

The ceremony is scheduled to have an abbreviated program, with Jennifer Wells, executive director of Our Future West Virginia, serving as the commencement keynote speaker. An honorary degree will be given to Robert “Bob” Simpson, former interim dean of the Lewis College of Business and former director of the BB&T Center for Leadership. Passes for media will be available the week of the event.

Circumstances surrounding the pandemic could result in changes to the rescheduled commencement ceremony. Spring 2020 graduates are encouraged to monitor their official Marshall email accounts or www.marshall.edu/commencement for more details later this summer.

Boyd County prepares for Kentucky primary June 23

CATLETTSBURG, Ky. — Boyd County is expanding its polling places from one to three for Tuesday’s primary election and will have face masks and pens for every voter, said Sheriff Bobby Jack Woods.

Boyd County has sent out 7,256 applications for absentee votes for the postponed June 23 primary and is in the process of counting those returned to the office of Boyd County Clerk Susan Campbell.

The county initially was going to have only one precinct open for the election at Boyd County Middle School off U.S. 60 west of Ashland, Woods, a member of the county’s board of elections, said Thursday.

The board decided to open polling places at the Catlettsburg Senior Citizens Center on Louisa Street and at Poage Elementary School in Ashland, Woods said.

“We wanted to have a polling place in Ashland,” he said.

Poage is a regular voting site, has plenty of parking and is handicapped accessible. Ashland voters are voting on seats for the Ashland Board of City Commissioners in this primary, he said.

Six voting machines, including five for paper ballots and one electronic voting machine, will be available at all three locations, Woods said. The board also is making hand sanitizer and gloves available for those who want to use them, he said.

A member of the Kentucky National Guard also will be on hand to sanitize voting areas after voters cast their ballot, Woods said.

“We made arrangements to get masks and sanitizer through the Boyd County Emergency Management Agency,” he said.

Gov. Andy Beshear said his office is providing 5,000 masks, 4,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, 5,800 face shields and 20,000 gloves for the primary. The personal protective equipment is being made available across the state, according to a news release.

The state initially was anticipating 10,000 voters to head to the polls in Boyd County on Primary Election Day, he said. With the number of people already voting by absentee, Woods said, the number could reach the 12,000 who voted in Boyd County in 2016.

Voters will be able to keep the pens they use to fill out their paper ballots, Woods said.

He said there is no problem having sufficient workers at the polls on Primary Election Day.

The board counted 2,400 absentee votes Thursday and will count more Friday, he said.

A number of races are on the primary ballot, including president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

There also are nine candidates for the Ashland Board of City Commissioners. The top eight will advance to the general election this fall. The four with the most votes will be elected to two-year terms on the board.