Caution is critical at this juncture of the Covid-19 battle, the administrator of the Fayette County Health Department says.

Teri Harlan was among the health care professionals administering Covid-19 testing Saturday at Oak Hill High School, as a trying week for the county and its residents wound down. On Friday, Nov. 13, 195 Covid-19 tests were administered during a three-hour window at the J.W. and Hazel Ruby West Virginia Welcome Center in nearby Mount Hope. The next day, 137 individuals took advantage of drive-through testing at OHHS. Another testing opportunity was held on Sunday, Nov. 15 at Valley PK-8 in Smithers.

This past week included a smattering of cases being reported at various Fayette County schools and one case at the board of education office. New River Intermediate and New River Primary both reverted to full remote learning on Thursday, Nov. 12 to allow for contact tracing but returned to the blended learning schedule the next day. Superintendent Gary Hough said a total of three Covid-19 cases (two at NRI and one at NRP) were identified.

On Saturday morning, Hough said single cases had been confirmed at two other county schools — Gauley Bridge Elementary and Oak Hill Middle. Later Saturday, a positive case was confirmed at Fayetteville PK-8. None of those cases was believed to be from transmission in the school setting.

In a seven-day period through Nov. 19, the website of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources listed Fayette County with 90 Covid-19 cases, with one death reported during that span. As of Nov. 18, there were 192 active cases in the county.

Earlier last week, the health department reported that several individuals who had voted on election day at the Mount Hope Fire Department later tested positive for Covid-19. Harlan and Fayette County Clerk Alicia Treadway both said this week there have been no cases from Nov. 3 in-person voting at other polling locations in the county. Treadway said Friday she was unaware of any Covid-19-related issues regarding five poll workers at the MHFD. Those workers took necessary safety precautions that day, she said.

Harlan said Saturday an outbreak at a Mount Hope church remained active. She also acknowledged that "we do have a few (cases) in the schools."

Extra caution must be taken in the coming weeks, she said, because "the virus is so prevalent, it's everywhere."

"We are definitely recommending anyone who can, do meetings virtually, any churches that can hold services virtually, that's the smart way to go now," Harlan said. "We're really asking the community to limit their interactions, limit going out. It's really important, especially right now since there's so much virus out there in our communities."

As West Virginians move forward under an executive order issued last week by Gov. Jim Justice which requires face coverings be worn at all times in indoor public places (with some exceptions), Harlan said the health department will continue to work with the community to stress compliance with the order. "We'll put some extra work into that, just getting out there and making sure they know that's the requirement, and they're expected to follow those rules."

With the holidays approaching amid the backdrop of unabated cases, Harlan said, "We're really encouraging families to be creative this year; try not to have the traditional large gatherings. Because what happens if people do that and then one person ends up sick, it impacts everyone and then everyone they've had contact with since then. The least amount of people you can be around, the better, over the holidays."

"This week has been tough," Harlan admitted Saturday. "This week is the first week I felt, like, fear for our community."

Maintaining vigilance now is even more crucial, she said. "It (rising case numbers) is why we all really need to just kind of hunker down. Get through this, the vaccine will be here. We're in training constantly getting ready for the vaccine, so we're hoping that will happen even by the end of the year. Everyone just needs to continue to use caution and be smart. Limit your contacts."

Harlan encourages individuals to contact the health department at 304-574-1617 weekdays for Covid-19 guidance and to arrange for a flu shot.

Free Covid-19 testing is available on Thursday, Nov. 19 until 2 p.m. at Rainelle Medical Center's Midland Trail Health Center, 26719 Midland Trail, Hico.

Notes:

• On Sunday, Nov. 15, Kanawha County reported 134 new Covid-19 cases. While between 20 and 25 of the cases were because of lab results that were entered late, it marks the largest one-day increase in cases since the pandemic began. Kanawha County is again experiencing a surge in the Covid-19 crisis and action must be taken, officials stress.

In a press release from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, Dr. Sherri Young, chief health officer, said, "Increases in cases are typical after holidays, but this one is particularly alarming, especially because we haven't reached Thanksgiving yet. Stay safe and take precautions to avoid spreading the disease. Avoid crowds, stay home when you can, especially if you're feeling sick. Wear a face covering in public and frequently wash your hands."

"No matter what the official county alert map says, the reality on the ground tells me that Kanawha County is red," said Commission President Kent Carper. "When you see this large of an increase in cases, this proves without question that community spread is rampant. I continue to strongly recommend essential activity only."

Commissioner Ben Salango said, "These numbers are alarming. The surge we are experiencing will only get worse as we approach Thanksgiving and more people travel and gather. We continue to recommend that you get tested this week prior to the holiday and limit your holiday gatherings to small events."

"The alarming increase in cases that we are seeing across our city, county and state show the need for increased awareness and personal responsibility surrounding this virus," said Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin. "While I know we are all suffering from Covid fatigue and are longing for normalcy surrounding the upcoming holidays, we cannot let our guard down. Now more than ever, we need to be hyper vigilant and make sacrifices that will allow us to spend many more holidays with our loved ones.

"I urge everyone to follow all guidelines set forth from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, State of West Virginia and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when making holiday plans."

• As of Nov. 13, the Montgomery Rehab and Nursing outbreak was still active, according to the DHHR website. All told, there have been 45 cumulative positive resident cases and 18 cumulative positive staff members at the facility. Six deaths there have been associated with Covid-19.

At Hilltop Center, one positive staff case remains active.

• Through Nov. 19, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said there have been 972,894 total confirmatory laboratory results received for Covid-19 statewide, with 37,399 total cases and 623 deaths.

On. Nov. 19, the DHHR confirmed the deaths of an 87-year-old woman from Cabell County, a 70-year-old Harrison County man, a 68-year-old Berkeley County man, a 75-year-old man from Ohio County, a 74-year-old Marshall County man, an 82-year-old Kanawha County man, a 63-year-old woman from Tyler County, a 92-year-old Marshall County woman, an 85-year-old Kanawha County man, a 64-year-old Wood County man, and a 62-year-old man from Kanawha County.

On Nov. 16, the DHHR confirmed the deaths of an 83-year-old Kanawha County man, an 80-year-old Kanawha County woman, and an 80-year-old woman from Jefferson County. The next day, the agency confirmed the deaths of 13 more West Virginians: an 84-year-old Boone County woman, a 59-year-old Kanawha County man, a 79-year-old woman from Kanawha County, a 68-year-old Barbour County woman, a 72-year-old Fayette County man, an 86-year-old Ohio County man, an 88-year-old Ohio County woman, a 75-year-old Jefferson County woman, a 68-year-old man from Hancock County, an 80-year-old Putnam County man, a 69-year-old Putnam County woman, an 89-year-old Putnam County woman, and a 68-year-old man from Boone County. On Nov. 18, the agency confirmed the following deaths: an 86-year-old Cabell County woman, a 44-year-old Mingo County man, a 78-year-old Mercer County woman, a 90-year-old Brooke County woman, a 68-year-old man from Wyoming County, a 74-year-old Kanawha County woman, a 72-year-old Roane County woman, a 76-year-old Nicholas County man, an 81-year-old Wood County woman, an 86-year-old Harrison County man, a 62-year-old man from Wayne County, a 92-year-old Jefferson County man, a 76-year-old Logan County man, and a 94-year-old Jefferson County man.

"As many of us have grown tired of Covid-19, it is more important than ever to stay vigilant in our prevention efforts," said Bill J. Crouch, DHHR cabinet secretary. "Our sympathies are extended to these families."

Cases per county through Thursday included: Barbour (298), Berkeley (2,440), Boone (553), Braxton (98), Brooke (455), Cabell (2,349), Calhoun (49), Clay (100), Doddridge (95), Fayette (997), Gilmer (180), Grant (264), Greenbrier (344), Hampshire (242), Hancock (459), Hardy (177), Harrison (977), Jackson (620), Jefferson (1,060), Kanawha (4,934), Lewis (215), Lincoln (371), Logan (958), Marion (653), Marshall (911), Mason (290), McDowell (537), Mercer (1,125), Mineral (781), Mingo (873), Monongalia (2,905), Monroe (310), Morgan (219), Nicholas (281), Ohio (1,182), Pendleton (88), Pleasants (65), Pocahontas (84), Preston (405), Putnam (1,504), Raleigh (1,301), Randolph (592), Ritchie (106), Roane (141), Summers (232), Taylor (235), Tucker (91), Tyler (115), Upshur (397), Wayne (863), Webster (51), Wetzel (352), Wirt (73), Wood (1,843) and Wyoming (559).

Visit the dashboard at www.coronavirus.wv.gov for more information.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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