An outbreak at Mount Olive Correctional Complex and Jail continues to fuel a recent spike of positive Covid-19 cases in Fayette County.

As of 3 p.m. on Aug. 28, the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported 32 active Covid-19 cases involving inmates at Mount Olive, with 1,275 negative results and 853 tests pending. One had recovered, and 16 were in quarantine. A day later, the number of active positives had more than doubled, to 70. There were 649 tests pending, one recovered and 21 in quarantine. Then, on Sunday, the number of positives had nearly doubled yet again, to 138. At that time, results from 187 tests were pending.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Fayette County had 364 confirmed cases of Covid-19. There have been nine deaths of county residents, 13 are hospitalized, including two on ventilators, 162 have recovered and there are 181 active cases. In that time frame, 142 inmates at MOCC have positive test results, as well as 19 staff members.

On Friday, West Virginia reported its first death linked to Covid-19 of an inmate ordered to a W.Va. Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation facility since the state confirmed its first case on March 17. According to a press release from the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, an inmate from the South Central Regional Jail died early Friday while at an outside hospital. The preliminary assessment from health officials attributed the cause to complications from Covid-19.

The 40-year Wood County man was being held on federal charges, the release noted. He had underlying medical conditions and tested positive for Covid-19 within the past week while at the hospital.

Lawrence Messina, who oversees communications for the W.Va. Department of Homeland Security (formerly Military Affairs and Public Safety), said Friday there were active cases among 13 Mount Olive staff and 10 recovered cases, with 145 tests with results pending. Any positive DCR employee self-quarantines at home and not at a facility, Messina noted.

Enhanced testing at the complex was originally performed on June 11, and a second round of enhanced testing extended facility-wide this week, according to Messina. Testing of employees was completed Wednesday, and inmate testing ended Friday morning.

Mount Olive and its satellite work camp have a combined population of 1,019. Both the main prison and the work camp are under capacity, Messina wrote in an email. "MOCC has the space it needs to ensure inmates are medically isolated and quarantined as necessary," he said.

Mount Olive and the other facilities continue to follow DCR's response plan for Covid-19, which is detailed on the Correctional Facilities page at West Virginia's main website for its Covid-19 response, coronavirus.wv.gov. That includes ensuring adequate personal protective equipment for DCR employees.

In the county alert system map utilized by state and local education and health officials to determine the status of safely opening schools and conducting extracurricular activities, inmate case numbers are reflected as one total case per facility. MOCC inmates who have tested positive are reflected individually in the overall county case count, according to Fayette County Health Officer Dr. Anita Stewart.

In Saturday evening's updated map on the West Virginia Department of Education website, Fayette County had between 10 and 24.9 cases per 100,000 population on a rolling seven-day average, placing the county in orange status. That means Fayette County extracurricular activities can engage in practice but not in contests this week. Kanawha County was in the orange category, too. An updated map on the evening of Sept. 5 will indicate what modifications are necessary for the Sept. 8 opening day of school and extracurricular activities that week.

Fayette County's recent case uptick is not solely because of the activity within the walls of the state's maximum security prison for men at Mount Olive, Stewart pointed out. "In the last two to three days, there's been a major upswing of community transmission," she said Friday. "Most are community transmission not related to large groups, not related to travel ... It's people that are really trying to do the right thing, wearing masks, washing hands, staying home, that contract Covid.

"It's been very perplexing and concerning; we really have to hunker down and do the behavioral measures — all of us — to stop this."

Stewart said there had been no active outbreaks in school-related extracurricular activities or in overall school operations as of Friday.

"We're under high scrutiny from the state right now because of our numbers jump, and we're working with the state to enhance mitigation strategies," Stewart said.

"Right now the only thing we have to combat this virus are behavioral measures — good hand washing, maintaining 6 feet, limiting large groups, outside is better than inside, stay home if you're sick," Stewart said. "It's up to each of us to make those behavioral changes to make a difference in our community."

Continue to be vigilant, she urges. "I know how fast this situation can get out of control," said Stewart. Referencing Justice's statements of state and county officials "running to the fire" to deal with Covid-19 outbreaks, Stewart said, "I think we've been smoldering, and we've had a little pickup in the winds and our flames are getting a little higher, so we're working to extinguish that and hoping our community is still on board to partner with us (in stopping the spread)."

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

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