West Virginia health officials today announced a new, detailed system for identifying areas experiencing a rise in covid-19 cases.
“It really is meant to help all of us see when and where increasing disease rates are occurring and invite early action,” Public Health Officer Cathy Slemp said during a news briefing today.
In days leading up to this, officials had described the plan as new guidance on “hotspots.” Today the term hotspots wasn’t used, though.
During West Virginia’s coronavirus precautions, several counties were designated as hotspots, which led to greater restrictions on numbers of people who could be in one place.
But how a hotspot was designated — or how the designation was eventually removed — was never clearly defined.
As West Virginia continues the incremental process of easing restrictions, coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh said that means a transition to focusing on distinct areas of the state.
He described that as looking at West Virginia as a collection of 55 counties.
So now state officials are describing a rapid response system aimed at quickly assessing the spread of virus in particular areas.
“As West Virginians begin to re-engage in activities, increased surveillance and early identification of areas with increasing COVID-19 cases are critical to protecting the health of all residents,” Slemp stated.
The first step of rapid response is identifying a possible increase in positive cases in a community.
Today’s explanation didn’t immediately provide additional insight about how that would be first identified.
So far, West Virginia’s testing has focused not on the general population but instead on people exhibiting symptoms and also people in vulnerable populations such as nursing home residents and staff.
Nevertheless, a rise in cases would trigger rapid assessment and guide action based on a seven-day rolling sum of new, non-outbreak associated cases based on population size, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources.
DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health will examine additional data and start a rapid joint assessment with the county.
Following the rapid assessment and examination of data that suggest an increase in community transmission, the county may be designated by Gov. Justice with the status of “High Alert.”
Depending on the individual county circumstances, action plans will include providing or assigning needed resource support.
It also could include strongly reinforcing or potentially increasing community mitigation measures.
Once on the heightened alert list, a county will stay on it until a consistent decrease in community spread of covid-19 is apparent.
Removal from the alert list will be based on data and in collaboration with the local health department.
“This approach will provide a consistent way to allow West Virginia to return to work while ensuring that we are monitoring for and taking aggressive steps to prevent the resurgence of the virus,” Slemp said.