For the past few weeks, Logan County has stood out in red on maps showing the spread of coronavirus.
“Some of our people, especially our parents and grandparents and providers of children, you see a heightened sense of urgency,” state Senator Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, said this week. “People are scared. More people are wearing masks than previously. That’s the one thing I think that’s come out of this that’s positive.
“A lot of people would stop you, scared, wondering what’s next with the county.”
In recent days, the county’s numbers have eased somewhat, with Logan’s status moving Tuesday to orange on a map meant to designate whether it’s safe to allow visitation at nursing homes, open schools or play fall sports. That means the county still should exercise caution.
A Harvard Global Health Institute map of county-by-county covid-19 risk levels still shows Logan County on red.
On Tuesday, the state Department of Health and Human Resources announced eight deaths related to covid-19, including three from Logan County.
A release from DHHR on Saturday was particularly tragic for the county, reporting five Logan deaths.
Logan has recorded 20 deaths overall, according to state records. But there are likely more than that because of a lag in processing death reports.
Hardesty knew at least two people who have died of the virus — a young man who was the county’s first fatality and a 95-year-old woman who taught Hardesty in Sunday school when he was young.
“It runs the gamut. It’s just sad,” Hardesty said.
Another man, who played softball with Hardesty years back, is on a ventilator.
“It really hits home when you have friends and loved ones you see succumb to this virus,” Hardesty said. “You really don’t take it as serious when you just read about it and hear about it.”
As summer began, the situation seemed fairly calm in Logan. In late June, the county health department made a post on its Facebook page to dispel a rumor that a single new case had been identified. In actuality, the health department noted, the case was from someone living in another state.
At that time, Logan counted 21 cases but none active.
But then, as summer travel season began, the situation changed.
“That’s all a part of covid fatigue. You get so tired of it and want to get back to some sense of normal too soon,” said state Senator Ron Stollings, a Boone County doctor and a Democrat whose district includes Logan County.
So people traveled to Myrtle Beach or to Pigeon Forge. Churches resumed gathering, with a singing group performing before several congregations on a single weekend, resulting in what the local health department later determined to be outbreaks.
“It started with primarily vacation, coming back home,” said Steve Browning, the Logan County Health Department administrator.
“We investigated every case that was there, and that was the initial caseload. And then we had an outbreak within a few churches that pushed our numbers up some more. Those two situations kind of ran together into July.”
On July 2, the county was reporting five active cases, all travel-related.
By July 9, there were 37 positives with 11 active.
On July 15, 44 positive cases with 17 active.
Day by day, the numbers rose like the summer heat.
On July 23, the county reported 72 positive cases with 33 active. A day later, 87 positive cases and 44 active. July 27, 105 positive cases and 53 active.
By July 30, the county announced its second and third deaths. There were 139 cases with 78 considered active that day.
The start of August brought 153 cases with 79 active. That is also when an outbreak at Logan Regional Medical Center was disclosed, with 13 employees testing positive.
On August 10, the county announced two more deaths along with 263 positive cases, including 120 active. On that day, state officials started warning about an outbreak at Trinity Healthcare Services, a nursing home.
Right now, the state lists 87 cases among residents at Trinity and 55 among staff there. The nursing home has listed five deaths.
Trinity is a 122-bed facility.
“A nursing home is a fragile place. So that’s a very concerning thing,” Browning said.
The virus spread at the hospital and the nursing home “took our numbers from being very manageable to almost overwhelming at that time,” Browning said. “That was the cause of our biggest spike.”
In recent days, Browning said, the county’s numbers have started to taper off, with only two or three new cases a day being identified.
“We are trending down,” he said.
Sources of spread
Gov. Jim Justice has often cited travel to Myrtle Beach as a source of coronavirus in West Virginia. The governor has sometimes talked about a mandatory quarantine for West Virginians traveling from such hotspots until they receive test results, but he has not yet done so.
Contact tracing in Logan County showed travel to the popular beach and to other destinations was a major contributor, Browning said.
“We interviewed everybody, and that was their take on it: ‘I just got back from vacation, and I hadn’t gone anywhere else.'”
A major debate in the community was whether the virus spread during the annual Freedom Festival, which drew enthusiastic crowds as usual over Fourth of July weekend.
Opinions ran so strong, the health department wrote on its Facebook page that it had no control over whether the festival went on.
Weeks later, when someone who had performed at the Freedom Festival tested positive for coronavirus, the health department posted that the timing meant it was unlikely the transmission was associated with the festival.
Contact tracing of residents with coronavirus wound up not pointing toward the festival as a source of community spread, Browning said.
“We literally spoke to every case and every case was investigated. Nothing from anybody indicated a large gathering, group,” Browning said. “Everything that was significant at all was from vacation travelers.”
Hardesty didn’t think it was a great idea to have the festival during a pandemic, but he agreed it’s unclear that the event led to community spread.
“Was I a fan that festival went on at that time with all we had facing us? Probably not,” he said. “Do I know definitively if it increased our caseload or spread? I don’t have any data to really give you a sound answer on that. There is chatter in our community both ways.”
As the numbers grew, Logan County asked for state support.
During a state briefing on Monday, Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer described National Guard assistance to the nursing home. DHHR has supported local contact tracing efforts, Hoyer said.
State Health Officer Ayne Amjad said state officials are in touch with local leaders on a daily basis.
Logan County has been the site of state community testing drives several times.
Logan County’s status on the state’s color-coded map has put the start of the school year in jeopardy.
Red means keeping schools closed and halting all sports.
The turn to orange gives some hope — and incentive — that classroom instruction could resume in a few weeks and that practices may start.
Logan County School Superintendent Patricia Lucas said last week on MetroNews’ “Talkline” that the county decided to start the school year with virtual learning. That plan is expected to last until the end of September.
“Our board wanted to make sure we are putting the safety of our students and employees first,” Lucas said.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) August 20, 2020
Stollings believes what has happened in Logan County this summer is a warning signal for the whole region.
“People are very concerned now. This thing in Logan really has made a lot of people aware and more concerned even in the surrounding counties, which is Boone and Lincoln,” Stollings said.
“When you see or hear of your neighbor dying it has definitely jerked a knot in our populace down here as far as people masking and distancing. There’s a much less number of anti-maskers, if you would.”
Hardesty, a former county school board member, says he tries to set an example by wearing a mask even if he’s just pumping gas.
As summer comes to a close, he hopes people remain cautious.
“I want to hope that we’re taking it serious. I think we’ve got another defining moment in our county, our state and our nation here in a couple of weeks when Labor Day rolls around,” he said.
Seven to 10 days after that, Hardesty suggested, the results will be clear of how people treated the holiday.
“It won’t be my opinion then,” he said. “The numbers will reflect.”