Due to a significant increase in special community events commonly held this time of year — such as weddings and high school proms and graduations — as well as an upsurge in vacation travel, Mingo County health officials say the public should be aware of the probability that a consequential significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases for any given time period could result.

In fact, a spike of 61 positive cases in Mingo County in just the last two weeks is believed to have been the result of either out-of-area travel or attendance at various special local events or functions--or both. Eight new cases were reported on July 15, followed by two on July 16 and then nine on July 17.

These were followed up by 20 additional cases confirmed over the weekend of July 18-19, and Monday, July 20. Since then and up until press time, 12 more cases have been added to the total.

"Mingo County had a total of 17 positive cases at the end of June and we've already had over 60 so far just in the month of July," said MCHD Administrator Keith Blankenship in an interview earlier this week. "I don't think there's any doubt that the numbers of people traveling and attending these special events have really increased in the last few weeks and in turn have caused the spike."

Blankenship said most people traveling to other areas or attending these special local events are at least cognizant of the risks of doing so whether they actually heed them or not.

For those who choose to do one of the two, he explained most of them inevitably express a great deal of uncertainty about what steps they should take if they or a family member learn they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

"We have an obligation to get the word out to the community on how to respond when individuals get the news that someone they were associated with at the event has tested positive," Blankenship said. "And that's certainly understandable because there is a great deal of confusion as to what the correct procedures are."

Blankenship said the first step would be for an individual to closely examine the situation in which he found himself so that a more accurate determination can be made as to whether either he or any one of his family members should be considered an actual close contact.

"By definition, close contact means direct contact by touching the person in some way, either by shaking hands, tapping someone on the shoulder, or hugging, or if this person was in your personal space, which is defined as being within 6 feet for a period of 10 minutes," he said.

Blankenship said, in this scenario, one would be considered a close contact whether a mask was worn or not worn during contact with the infected person.

"If you are considered a close contact, you would quarantine for 14 days from that point of contact for the person who tested positive," he said. "The public health department's role, once the positive lab report is confirmed, is the infected person is contacted by us and he or she will provide a list of names of those people who would have been in close contact with them, who then will also be contacted by us, with those being given instructions to quarantine for up to a 14-day period.

"If you feel like you were a close contact and the health department didn't contact you, that means the infected person didn't identify you as a contact,” he continued.

Blankenship said anyone believing he/she was a close contact of the infected person but was not listed as such still has the option to contact the health department and furnish the pertinent information, at which point health officials would then evaluate that person's information to determine whether he/she could be considered a close contact.

Should a person be determined to have been a close contact with a confirmed positive case, Blankenship further explained, the next question health officials typically get is what procedures should be followed by his/her own family members.

"It's hard for a family to accomplish isolation, but the positive person is required to completely isolate from others in the household ... they can be in the same residence but must be able to remain apart, such as on opposite ends of the house or on opposite floors of the house," he said. "Whereas a contact person quarantines, also with or without family members in the same household. But in this case the other family members of the contact are asked to self-monitor; that is, pay close attention to any symptoms they might develop but in the meantime they can still go to church, to work, and so forth."

Blankenship said these more lax procedures for the "contact of a contact" doesn't mean there should not be adequate social distancing during the 14-day quarantining period.

"Does that mean someone who is just quarantining as a contact of an infected person should be in close contact with one of their family members during the 14 days? No, they should stay separated as much as possible," he said.

Although Blankenship stressed the health department does not call a contact of a contact, he said this in no way means the department itself still doesn't get a great many inquiries from a wife or husband asking what they should do in responding to a certain scenario.

"We are not going to direct this person," he said. "Instead what we'll do is tell them they should call their employer and see what their policy is about being a contact of a person who was exposed to an infected person and then let the employer direct them."

Blankenship reiterated the importance of not traveling and avoiding large gatherings when at all possible, particularly now that both the county and state are seeing an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

"I would just strongly suggest that people continue to practice social distancing and wear masks or some other type of face covering when out in a public setting, continue to maintain good hand-washing practices, and just follow all the safety procedures handed down by the governor," he said. "With the significant increase in the number of positive cases that we have seen just here in Mingo County, that should be enough proof to everyone we are still in a major battle that we can still lose."

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