The Mingo County Commission met in a three-hour session Tuesday with half of that time devoted to various COVID-19 discussions because of recent spikes. One decision made by the commission limits public access at courthouse.

Keith Blankenship, executive director of the Mingo County Health Department, updated the commission about a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

“It has been a wild week. It has been a wild month,” Blankenship told the commissioners. “We now have 75 positive cases and the numbers are changing hourly.”

Of those, 44 of those individuals are active cases. One person is in critical condition and has been placed on a ventilator, he continued. The rest of those have recovered. Mingo County’s mortality rate still remains at two deaths.

When asked about his thoughts regarding courthouse access, Blankenship said he totally supports the governor’s mandate requiring face coverings as well as continued social distancing and increased hand hygiene protocols.

However, Blankenship said that prior to July 1 there was only 17 positive cases in the county. Since that date, there have been 58 new cases from “a very diverse” geographic. Blankenship said there are positive cases all over Mingo County from Kermit to Gilbert.

“I think we need a stricter policy,” said Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith, who attended the meeting via conference call.

As of Wednesday, July 22, public courthouse access will be limited to only two people in any office at any given time until further notice. Courthouse security officers will lock the main entrance and will escort people to and from the offices they need to visit. In addition, masks are mandatory except for provisions provided under the governor’s order and temperature checks will be conducted. Any person refusing a temperature check will be denied entrance.

Mingo Circuit Clerk Lonnie Hannah addressed the governing body concerning “carryover” time by county employees and sought a COVID-exemption to the current policy. The policy for unused vacation time allows ten days to be carried over from one year to another.

“A lot of employees have vacation time that still needs to be used and people are being asked not to travel out of state,” Hannah said. “Could be make an exception this year because of COVID? This would incentivize our employees not to go on vacation.”

The commissioners were agreeable to the one-time exception but did not take any action. They will meet with all of the elected officials to see if they are in favor of the action. The current policy was signed by each of the elected official and would have to have the same approval in order for a change to be made.

The commission also adopted a plan approved by the West Virginia Supreme Court that states any public employee vacationing in a “hot spot” be tested and obtain a negative result before returning to work.

In other business, the commission:

• Signed a lease agreement with the Department of Natural Resources and Cotiga to allow the county to maintain the picnic shelters and playground at Laurel Lake;

• Appointed Alexis Batausa to the Mingo County Board of Health;

• Agreed to sign a letter of support for COVID-related grant by the Housing Authority of Mingo County seeking funding for the homeless shelter in Delbarton; and

• Approved a spending freeze on all county agencies until Sept. 30.

Recommended for you