By Lyra Bordelon
Even if West Virginia feels done with COVID-19, COVID-19 is far from done with West Virginia. Across the state, a record setting new number of cases were confirmed between Tuesday, November 10, and Wednesday, November 11. Greenbrier County schools, town halls, and other organizations have also seen shifts to remote learning and physical shut downs as a result of local cases.
“Since Monday we’ve lost another 23 West Virginians,” announced Governor Jim Justice during his press conference on Wednesday, November 11. “You can see on the television all across the nation this thing has amped up and it keeps getting worse and worse. We’re all very, very hopeful that it will, as it has done in the past, peek and go the other way. Right now we’re still going on – we’ve now lost 553 West Virginians.”
According to data provided by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, there were 885 new cases received throughout the previous day across the state, a new record. In addition, the data indicates that this is not due to increases in testing, but an actual massive increase in positive infections.
“While increased testing does identify new cases, those new cases are real activity in the state of West Virginia,” said West Virginia Coronavirus Czar Clay Marsh. “We have seen the highest single week total in the entire COVID-19 pandemic over the last week, and today in the last 24 hours is the highest single day total. We have seen our cumulative percent positive rise … which implies that it’s not just a proportion of ‘more positive tests, more cases’ but there’s actually more disease in the state of West Virginia.”
Currently in Greenbrier County there has not been a massive spike in numbers, but several new cases have led to numerous institutions closing their doors. In Rainelle, one case closed Town Hall until November 17, leading to the cancellation of a Town Council meeting where the possible selection of a new mayor could have been considered, and the potential cancellation of the next meeting later this month.
In Greenbrier County schools, several emerging cases led to school shutdowns.
“The Greenbrier County Health Department has confirmed that individuals at Greenbrier East High School (GEHS), Eastern Greenbrier Middle School (EGMS), Western Greenbrier Middle School (WGMS), White Sulphur Springs Elementary (WSSE), Ronceverte Elementary, and Rupert Elementary have tested positive for COVID-19,” announced the Greenbrier County School system in a press release. “Those identified as close contacts will be notified and quarantined. Students at the identified schools will learn remotely on the dates noted below to allow for contact tracing and additional sanitation. The timeframe varies based on Health Department guidance related to each unique situation.”
The cases led to shifts to remote learning:
- Greenbrier East High School and Eastern Greenbrier Middle School shifted to remote learning for November 9 and 10, returning on Thursday, November 12.
- Rupert Elementary, Ronceverte Elementary, and Western Greenbrier Middle School also shifted to remote learning for November 10, returning on Thursday.
- White Sulphur Springs Elementary School shifted to remote learning for the longest – beginning November 10, students are not expected to return to in-person class until after November 30, accounting for the remote learning until November 20, then Thanksgiving break.
- The Greenbrier County Board of Education meeting on November 10 shifted to all virtual following the exposures.
Schools are not the only place shifting access – the Greenbrier Valley Medical Center is also shifting their visitation policy.
“These practices are for the protection of our patients and care-giving teams,” announced the center on social media. “We are asking for the community’s understanding and compliance. New visitation guidelines will go into effect Wednesday, November 11: No visitors are permitted to accompany patients in outpatient testing, outpatient surgery, or emergency department. Visitors to inpatient areas are restricted. Exceptions may be made for pediatric patients, laboring mothers, essential caregivers, and end of life situations. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding. Please share with your friends & family. We sincerely hope to welcome visitors back soon.”
In order to keep potential mortality rates down, Marsh emphasized mask wearing and the need to keep hospital capacity open as best as possible. Noting that “over 80 percent of the people dying are in nursing homes,” Marsh explained the virus comes in through visitors and, most importantly, community spread.
“The majority of people who are bringing the virus into nursing homes are happening from the community,” said Marsh. “Community get-togethers, family [gatherings] where people are not being as cognizant of wearing masks, indoor environments where people are taking their masks off. We know nationally that includes restaurants and bars and coffee shops and gyms. This is really a time where we have to be even more committed to controlling that spread.”
With the prospect of Thanksgiving on the horizon, it is notable that one of the potential spreading events Marsh noted was the variety of Halloween celebrations, including trick and trunk or treats. As the next holiday approaches, Marsh emphasized the need for masks and social distancing during these celebrations. This was echoed by Greenbrier County’s representatives.
“Today we’ve reported the highest number of positive cases in a 24 hour period,” wrote Delegate Cindy Lavender-Bowe on social media. “To protect your family, neighbors, and community, I recommend that you follow the risk level indicated by the Harvard map. Science and data based. Wear your masks, avoid group gatherings – including small ones.”
“Last night, I shared my concern for our state. Today, we have 885 new cases in a single day. Which shatters the previous daily high,” wrote Senator Stephen Baldwin. “For the health of our grandparents and immunosuppressed patients and high risk citizens, this must turn around. We can turn it around. Not by shutting everything down, as some assume, but simply by following basic guidelines for health—masks, distancing, and hand washing.”
Justice also noted that shut downs are not off the table, saying “we are watching everything and everything’s got to be on the table.”
“If we continue to rise and everything the way we’re going, it may come at some point in time that we will have to look awfully, awfully, hard at shutting things down, but right now we sure don’t want to go that way if we can avoid it,” Justice said.