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More counties removed as ‘hotspots’ as West Virginia moves to another phase of reopening

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — To start the month of May, the designated “hotspot” list for COVID-19 cases in West Virginia was being revised.

On Sunday, Governor Jim Justice announced three counties — Jackson County, Kanawha County and Ohio County — were no longer considered “hotspots” for novel coronavirus infections.

Then, during an early Monday afternoon news conference, Justice announced Cabell, Wayne and Wood counties also have been removed as hotspots.

This was the same day West Virginia shifted to a “Safer at Home” order that relies more on personal responsibility of individuals rather than requiring people to stay home.

Counties still designated as hotspots — Marion, Berkeley, Jefferson, Harrison and Monongalia — were under greater restrictions, including limiting gatherings to no more than five people and directing all businesses to require employees to work from home as much as possible.

Justice said caution is still urged.

“From my heart, I would tell you again this disease is still with us. It is here right now,” he said.

Counties around West Virginia were adjusting the the loosened restrictions.

Howard Gamble

“We’re all hoping we’re going to see smaller spikes and we’re practicing hand hygiene. We’re practicing staying home if you’re sick and we’re also practicing wearing some sort of face covering when we’re out in public when we can’t get six feet apart,” said Howard  Gamble, administrator with the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department.

“With those measures in place, maybe our ‘Safer At Home’ rollout will be safer.”

In contrast with multiple discussions about Ohio County’s initial inclusion on the list, Gamble said, there was no notification of removal prior to the announcement from the Justice Administration.

As of Monday, Gamble said, “We’re not seeing community spread.” But he hopes it stays that way.

“Now when you begin to open up, you have venues now open where people can go.  People are coming out from staying at home.  You’re hoping that we practice ‘Safer At Home’ or safe measures, but we could see an increase in cases and this could be a concern where you’ll see small spikes all across West Virginia.”

Ohio County had 33 total cases of COVID-19 confirmed as of Monday morning with one death.

Most of the recent cases, according to Gamble, involved Ohio County residents who were employees of the Belmont, Ohio, Correctional Institution, a growing outbreak spot.

“The last several have been connected and one of those cases, one of those additional of the 33, is actually a family member of a staff (member).  So it’s within the same house; it’s indirectly associated,” Gamble said.

Sherri Young

Kanawha-Charleston Health Officer Sherri Young said several recent drive-through testing events resulted in just one confirmed coronavirus case.

“We’re seeing less disease, which is great, but people need to know it is still out there. We are not quite done with this covid epidemic yet,” Young said Monday morning on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

Young advised state residents to continue social distancing, work remotely when possible, stay away from crowds, wash hands and use hand sanitizer and wear a mask when out in public.

“It would not take much to go into full blown resurgence of this because it is still present in the community,” she said.

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