CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The last county in West Virginia to report a confirmed case of the coronavirus is now deemed the most critical by health officials as the number of weekly cases statewide reached a record high.
Doddridge County on Wednesday became the only county in the red category on the state’s color-coded map. That’s the most serious of five colors, indicating substantial community transmission of the virus.
Under the red category, public schools are prohibited from conducting in-person classes while sports events and other extracurricular activities are postponed. Schools in the county were closed starting Oct. 6 due to the rise in cases.
According to the Doddridge County Health Department, the county has had just 62 positive virus cases since the pandemic began. It has 23 active cases and a 14-day rolling average of 25.37 virus cases per 100,000 population. The benchmark for the red status is 25.
Doddridge County reported its first positive virus case in late July and was by far the last to do so. It has now surpassed 11 of the state’s 55 counties in the total number of reported cases.
Dr. Ayne Amjad, the state’s health officer, said Wednesday she visited Doddridge County and was told that despite a statewide order for residents to wear masks at indoor public places, “a lot of people were not privy to wearing masks.”
Doddridge County is located in the north-central part of the state and has a population of about 8,400 residents. The largest city in the county, West Union, has about 800 residents. Doddridge is one of a dozen counties with populations under 10,000.
According to U.S. Census figures, about 22% of Doddridge County’s population is over age 65. The virus usually results in only mild to moderate symptoms, but is particularly dangerous for the elderly and people with underlying health problems.
Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday that state-sponsored testing was being offered Wednesday in Doddridge County, the same service that is offered in other counties whenever cases spike.
In the past two months, Justice has pushed for more aggressive testing statewide in order to identify people who otherwise may not be showing symptoms before they spread the virus to others. Critics say the increase in testing is aimed at lowering the rate of viruses in counties and thus enabling schools to reopen under the color-coded chart.
The state surpassed 200 positive virus cases for the first time during the pandemic on Aug. 30. It has hit that benchmark 16 times since. Last week the state reported a weekly record of 1,345 cases.
“The more you test, the more spreaders we will find to stop this,” Justice said. “You best better keep your guard up. People die if we don’t do our part.”
West Virginia has reported at least 391 virus-related deaths. Statewide, there are a record 180 people currently hospitalized for the virus, including 28 on ventilators.
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