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HUNTINGTON — Experts at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department are calling on the community to work together to reduce the county’s high incidence rate of spread of COVID-19.

The health department issued a health advisory Thursday night, warning residents of continued increased spread since the beginning of the month.

“This disease will shut us down,” Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director for the health department, said Friday. “If the government doesn’t shut us down — and I’m not saying the government should, but when the disease is out of control and too many are sick and there aren’t enough people to take care of them — we will see here what has been seen in other parts of the country, and we are moving in that direction. It’s time for us to realize we need to be a little more drastic in the actions we take.”

The county’s incidence rate has gone from 16.16 per 100,000 population last week to 20.50 on Friday.

In order to reduce unnecessary contacts and to slow the spread of COVID-19, the health department has made the following voluntary recommendations:

  • Individuals at high risk for severe COVID-19 disease should stay home.
  • Family members of individuals at high risk should restrict outside contact as much as possible, while maintaining physical and emotional family support.
  • Family gatherings should be reduced to necessary contact.
  • All individuals capable of working from home should consider doing so, and all individuals who can safely stay at home should do so as much as possible.
  • Business transactions should be as contactless and as safe as possible.
  • Workers should follow all government-issued guidance regarding work attendance, i.e., West Virginia School Alert System and all COVID-19-related safety measures.
  • Workers should comply with all COVID-19-related safety measures.
  • Consider limiting travel to necessary travel only.
  • Plan COVID-19 safety into all upcoming holiday events.
  • All voters should exercise their right to vote in as safe a manner as possible, consistent with their desired and available options.

These recommendations are elective and voluntary and may be superseded by future governmental orders if those become necessary.

Kilkenny said a lot of spread is coming from family gatherings. The spread in the community is what is causing outbreaks in the community’s hospitals and nursing homes. He said the situations at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital or nursing homes cannot be separated from what is happening in the community.

“At low incidence rates and law case counts, we can manage the situation with the three W’s: wash your hands, wear a mask and watch your distance. Our public has been pretty good about that,” Kilkenny said. “But as case counts begin to rise, we see the impact that has on our businesses. Where, and this is important for people to realize … for every case we have, we have on average 8-10 quarantines.”

For example, he said, if last week there were 105 positive COVID-19 cases identified, there are 1,000 people quarantined or isolated.

“Because of that, you can’t go to work,” he said. “If you are an essential worker, essential services suffer. If you work at a nursing home and you can’t go to work, now you are short-staffed. The more numerous the outbreaks, the harder they are to control.”

The advisory comes as Cabell County is listed as “green” on the state’s monitoring map. The county’s percent positive rate is keeping the county in that zone, which advises less restrictions. Cabell Midland High School still canceled its football game set for Saturday against George Washington High School, despite being in the green.

“I don’t think people interpret the school map correctly,” Kilkenny said. “It takes a lot into account and is about safety of attendance at school. If you then interpret it to mean safety in some other aspect, you may have misinterpreted it. I don’t think there is intent to misinform, but I think that people are really tempted to — and I don’t blame people. It is our responsibility to give people easy messages to understand that are clear, correct and valid. If we give them too many maps with too many colors, it’s not their fault.”

When state leaders were questioned about the differing messages between the state map and the advisory issued by the health department, Gov. Jim Justice said he didn’t understand why Cabell County released the advisory. He said if people follow the state guidelines, everything will be OK.

State health officials, however, said they understand what Kilkenny and his team are reacting to. Dr. Clay Marsh, state coronavirus czar, reiterated things will get worse before they get better.

“I think they are being super careful and making recommendations because they are seeing some of these metrics change, but what I think you are seeing as well is, as you do more tests, the percent positive rate is going down and the infection rate is going up, as we said it would, because that’s how these metrics work,” Marsh said. “Then over time, as we continue to do the right things in the community — mass distancing, all that — then we should see both of those come down together.”

There were 498 new positive cases of COVID-19 reported in West Virginia on Friday, for a total of 19,580, and three new deaths — a 67-year-old woman from Mercer County, a 58-year-old man from Mingo County and a 75-year-old man from Fayette County — for a total of 396.

Total cases per county are: Barbour (158), Berkeley (1,349), Boone (284), Braxton (31), Brooke (185), Cabell (1,130), Calhoun (32), Clay (51), Doddridge (63), Fayette (705), Gilmer (61), Grant (177), Greenbrier (151), Hampshire (118), Hancock (182), Hardy (101), Harrison (616), Jackson (341), Jefferson (513), Kanawha (3,249), Lewis (64), Lincoln (206), Logan (706), Marion (341), Marshall (238), Mason (157), McDowell (103), Mercer (535), Mineral (201), Mingo (490), Monongalia (2,205), Monroe (184), Morgan (93), Nicholas (170), Ohio (443), Pendleton (65), Pleasants (22), Pocahontas (64), Preston (174), Putnam (767), Raleigh (638), Randolph (368), Ritchie (25), Roane (85), Summers (72), Taylor (158), Tucker (52), Tyler (24), Upshur (210), Wayne (477), Webster (17), Wetzel (78), Wirt (26), Wood (464) and Wyoming (161).

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department reported 408 active cases Friday.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine visited Huntington Tri-State Airport on Friday afternoon and spoke to local media about his concerns about the rate of spread in southeastern Ohio communities and across the region.

“It’s very concerning that we are seeing a rising tide of red across the state of Ohio, and certainly in this area, too. The last two weeks we’ve had over 400 new cases in this area of Ohio,” he said.

DeWine added that 118 of those were recorded in Lawrence County, which falls within the red category on Ohio’s risk map.

He noted that it’s not uncommon to see similarly high rates of spread across state borders in areas like the Tri-State where travel is common across state lines, and encouraged people in the area to continue to follow safety guidelines, including the wearing of masks in public spaces where social distancing is not possible.

“In this region you see the same things — the rate of spread is just as bad in Ohio as it is in parts of West Virginia and Kentucky,” DeWine said. “It’s the most dangerous time we’ve seen yet in regards to this virus. We have doubled cases in Ohio in three weeks, and that shows you how fast this thing is spreading out, and we have to put the fire out. If not completely, we have to douse it and get the flames down.”

The Lawrence County Health Department reported 17 new positive cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with patients’ ages ranging from 19 to 90. There are 145 active cases in the county.

Statewide, 2,148 new positive cases were reported, for a total of 177,991, and 16 new deaths, for a total of 5,054.

In Kentucky, the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department reported 16 new positive cases of COVID-19: an 8-year-old boy, 19-year-old man, 20-year-old man, 24-year-old woman, 25-year-old man, 25-year-old woman, 27-year-old man, 33-year-old woman, 51-year-old woman, 57-year-old woman, 61-year-old woman, 62-year-old woman, two 66-year-old women, 68-year-old woman and 69-year-old woman, all isolating at home.

The health department also reported three news deaths, for a total of 20: a 65-year-old woman, a 77-year-old woman and an 85-year-old man.

The county has reported 605 total cases, with 453 recovered.

Statewide, 1,319 new positive cases were reported, for a total of 85,506, and four new deaths, for a total of 1,300.

More than 63,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the U.S. on Friday, for a total of 7,958,254, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 216,917 deaths related to the virus.

Reporter Taylor Stuck can be reached at tstuck@hdmediallc.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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