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KEYSER, W.Va. — While “ebbs and flows” in the fight against COVID-19 cases are expected moving forward, Mineral County Health Administrator A. Jay Root said Monday things appear to be trending in an overall positive direction.

Despite a slight uptick in cases earlier this month, Root said, the county’s case numbers are the best they have been in a while, and seem to be improving.

As of Monday morning, the county had seen 2,413 cases and 75 deaths. The infection rate was 11.70 per 100,000 population and the percent positivity 3.41%.

“That’s some of the best that we’ve been at in a very long time,” Root said of the most recent numbers. Toward the end of 2020, the county had some of the worst, if not at times the worst, numbers in the state — including a stretch from Oct. 31-Nov. 30 where the county recorded nearly 1,000 cases and 15 deaths.

While inclement weather had paused testing for a few weeks, Root said, it was able to resume last week. Free saliva testing is offered on Mondays and Tuesdays in the health department parking lot through West Virginia Labs. About 90 people were tested last week.

“Even with them testing more, our numbers continue to go down,” Root said.

The dip in cases has come not a moment too soon, Root said, not for just the sake of the health of the community but for the welfare of his hard-working but small staff, which has dealt with the pandemic almost non-stop for a year. Half of the staff of nine contracted COVID-19 in late December, Root noted, himself included.

“I’m hoping that we’re starting on the right path, you know, as far as seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Root said. “I will tell you, this has been very taxing and draining on my staff. We’re ready for it to end. We’ll do whatever we have to do to get our community through this, but it’s tiring.”

Vaccinations running smoothly

Root and his staff have turned their attention largely toward vaccinating residents age 65 and up. Root said that age group may not be complete until late March or early April.

“Vaccination clinics for health departments our size take a tremendous amount of time and effort,” Root said.

He noted that they’ve been giving shots to patients both in Mineral County and in Moorefield in Hardy County, where a clinic that serves 100 patients apiece from the four-county region — Mineral, Hardy, Grant and Hampshire — has been operating.

As is the case nationally, Root said, there’s more of a demand for the COVID-19 vaccine than there is a supply. During a clinic at the Keyser Volunteer Fire Department last week, slightly more than 300 first doses and a little more than 200 second doses were distributed.

That clinic, Root said, ran very smoothly, for which he credited both his staff and their community partners, including the fire department, Med-A-Save Pharmacy, Family Resource Network and several others. Running a successful clinic requires around 25-30 people to man it, he said, and they were able to get residents who showed up for a shot in and out in about 25 minutes.

The fire hall is an ideal site for its size, Root said, and having use of the neighboring Rainbow Lanes bowling alley parking lot to accommodate patients makes it even better. By working out of there, Root estimated that, over an eight-hour period and with enough personnel, anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 shots could be provided.

Walgreens will also be vaccinating some folks who registered for a vaccination through the state’s system, Root said, adding that he was optimistic that that could help reduce the demand. It would not, however, help them work through their own backlog of folks who contacted them directly to receive their shot prior to the state’s online registration portal launching last month.

Root urged residents to be mindful of the high demand for the vaccine, and to be patient.

“It’s not anything on our end. If we had the vaccine, we’d be putting it out there,” he said. “I think there’s rumors and misconceptions that we don’t want to vaccinate, that we’re doing certain things. We’re going down the list in order. I’m happy they’re vaccinating (at Walgreens) because the quicker we get the vaccine out, the better. The state has been trying to get as much vaccine as possible. But at this point, when you’re getting 25(000) to 30,000 doses a week for 1.7 million people, it’s going to take time.”

Outbreak reported at Keyser Primary School

The Mineral County Board of Education reported Monday a classroom outbreak of two separate cases at Keyser Primary School. Contact tracing is underway, per a press release.

All county schools were utilizing virtual instruction Monday due to inclement weather.

Lindsay Renner-Wood is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News, covering West Virginia and more. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayRenWood, email or call 304-639-4403.

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