FAYETTEVILLE — Fayette County Health Department staff members are diggin’ their new digs.

On Monday, the department unveiled its new location at 5495 Maple Lane on U.S. Rte. 19, seeing its first visitors at the new location after the move from the department’s longtime home in downtown Fayetteville was finalized last week.

The new health department location is not a newly-built structure, although it is obviously fresh ground for the 12-employee health department. The building, located near MedExpress Urgent Care and Hamilton, Burgess, Young and Pollard, housed medical clinics until last spring.

Both Teri Harlan, the FCHD administrator, and Dr. Anita Stewart, the Fayette County health officer, say the move will go a long ways toward bolstering public health efforts in the county.

“We have looked for a bigger facility for a while now, so we’re really excited to be in this new facility, which gives us more than double the space we had before,” said Harlan. “We are able to expand our staff, expand our services. We got completely moved in last week, in the middle of also doing (three) vaccine clinics and testing.

“We’re so excited about the move. It’s definitely added some stress, trying to get things taken care of, but we’re just super excited about the possibilities that this new facility give us.”

Harlan continued: “We were already busting at the seams at our other facility because we have hired additional staff, so now everyone has ... the space that we need here. But we also have space to expand staff. We do hope to hire an additional nurse.” An office manager and other hires are also being considered.

With more room, FCHD employees can work with the public in various health-related scenarios, and have more flexibility to accomplish that mission, Harlan said. The department will “definitely have sufficient space to provide (services such as) harm reduction, the various labs that we do. We’re excited about being able to focus on community health promotion (in areas such as breast cancer and cervical cancer awareness, flu shots and others).”

“We now have an adequate space to be able to provide public health services which are critical in Fayette County and in every county,” said Stewart. “I think after this pandemic, it’s been highlighted the importance of public health, so we’ll be able to serve our community in the best way possible, be able to have the right number of employees that we need to do that, and to expand services and fill gaps in our communities as we see them, and there’s quite a few of those.”

A new mobile unit introduced a few months back has already helped to fill some of those holes, Stewart said. The unit “lets us remove the barrier of transportation and get to folks as they need care or go to communities (offering a particular service),” she said.

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New building or old, the health department is still “seeing pretty alarming numbers,” Harlan said of the current Covid-19 environment in the county.

In a seven-day period through midnight on Sunday, Oct. 3, Fayette County had 285 Covid-19 cases and two deaths. There were 329 active cases in the county on Oct. 3. On the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ county alert system map, Fayette remained red with 8.8 percent positivity and an 83.55 infection rate.

“We’ve been doing this a long time,” Stewart said. “One thing that’s different now than at the beginning (of the pandemic) is that we have an excellent tool to combat this, and that’s vaccination. Until we get more people vaccinated, this is what we’re going to be dealing with. It’s going to ebb and flow. Unfortunately right now, we’re still with very high numbers and high incidences in Fayette County and across the state.

“So, until we get more people vaccinated, or more people infected to where there’s immunity, which I don’t want the latter; I want more people vaccinated. I know people are tired of hearing that, and they’re tired of hearing (about masks and social distancing), but right now that’s what we have to protect us.”

Increased hospitalizations due to the disease are still being experienced, she said.

Of Fayette’s populace eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine, 54 percent are currently fully vaccinated. “I think that’s still not high enough,” said Stewart. “That’s only half of our population. It’s estimated that, by the number that we’ve had infected and the number we’ve had vaccinated, there’s still 20,000 people that are vulnerable in Fayette County to Covid.”

Covid-19 testing is occurring Monday, Thursday and Friday (a change from the past schedule) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the health department. Mount Hope Fire and EMS stages testing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays at the J.W. and Hazel Ruby West Virginia Welcome Center at Mount Hope. There is testing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Montgomery General Hospital, and from 3 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays at the Smithers Gateway Center.

Free Covid-19 vaccines are given Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the FCHD, as well as via other health care providers and pharmacies in the area.

For more details, call the FCHD at 304-574-1617.

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

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