CHARLESTON — As Kanawha County crossed into red on West Virginia’s COVID-19 color-coded risk map Wednesday, officials urged caution to residents who could help mitigate the spread of the virus.
Kanawha and Monongalia were the only counties in the state designated red Wednesday morning. Four counties — Fayette, Boone, Mingo and Putnam — were orange, and six were gold, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
“This is a very difficult and frustrating time for all Kanawha Countians,” County Commissioner Ben Salango said. “We have to make sure we are wearing masks and following guidelines so we can begin in-person schooling and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Kanawha had 2,175 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 60 associated deaths. Of confirmed cases, 791 are active — a 44-case jump compared to Tuesday — according to the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
On Tuesday, the county reported that 15% of tests received that day were positive — the highest rate over the past week, per the DHHR. Statewide, West Virginia reported a daily positive percentage rate of 5.61% that same day.
Being designated as red on the state government’s map means a county must stop in-person classes and school activities, which may start again once the county reaches yellow, or 3.1 to 9.9 cases per 100,000 residents, on the re-entry map released at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Per an executive order issued by Gov. Jim Justice this week, counties designated red, orange or gold on the map must limit indoor “purely social” gatherings to 10 people. Travel sports teams also are prohibited from “bringing players or spectators together” in these counties, according to the order.
On Wednesday, in response to the new executive order, the Kanawha County Commission closed the Shawnee Sports Complex in Dunbar, according to a news release. All scheduled events and activities have been canceled and will remain so until the county’s positive rate goes down or the executive order is lifted.
In Kanawha, there have been more reports of coronavirus hotspots and outbreaks over the past week, according to a KCHD news release. Dr. Sherri Young, chief health officer at the agency, said she doesn’t expect positive rates to significantly curb any time soon. In the coming days, she said, counts could start reflecting the true potential effects of travel and transmission from Labor Day weekend, she said.
“We can’t let down our guard,” Young said. “Wear your mask, maintain social distancing, stay home when you’re sick and frequently wash your hands.”
According to the release, there has been an increase in community spread and family infections in Kanawha County and, as the school year evolves, this also might continue.
“The toll this is taking on the children in our community is immeasurable,” Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said. “We all must take the necessary precautions and do whatever we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 so our youth can resume some semblance of normalcy in their lives. We have to do this for them.”
In recent weeks, Kanawha County officials have begun to plan for situations that could stress the community’s health care system. Some worry about what might happen to the medical workforce if schools continue to be online only and parents are tasked with finding child care for their children or staying home themselves.
“Increasing COVID-19 cases puts a strain on our health care workers and our emergency medical system. We must do our part to stop the spread of this deadly virus,” said County Commission President Kent Carper.
The KCHD and the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority will hold a free drive-thru testing event from 8 a.m. to noon Thursday, Sept. 17, at the health department on Lee Street. No appointments are necessary.