County town hall meeting focuses on health concerns
CHARLES TOWN – A town hall meeting was held via Zoom last week, featuring a public question-and-answer session with Jefferson County Health Department Director Dr. Terrence Reidy, West Virginia University Dr. David Baltierra and sanitarian Gillian Beach.
Reidy opened the meeting presenting the latest statistics from the Johns Hopkins website on COVID-19 cases locally and nationally. He attributed recent spikes in Jefferson County to church services and ball field gatherings, as well as cases that could be traced to beaches.
Reidy advised citizens to social distance and wear face masks, something that at the time of the meeting was discretionary. Since that time, Gov. Jim Justice has mandated that masks be worn in all confined, public places by people ages nine-and-older.
Concerns raised by some members of the viewing public included whether West Virginia would be forced into another lockdown. The panelists would not commit to that drastic of a measure.
Instead, Baltierra stressed that wearing masks will help alleviate the need for another lockdown.
“It’s a matter of keeping surges down. Masks keep numbers down, as well as meeting in small, rather than large, gatherings,” he said. “It’s not an on-off switch. It’s here and we need to reduce the risk as much as possible.”
Another topic was that of herd immunity, and one viewer questioned the potential downside of such a practice. Reidy explained it takes more than 50 percent of the population with antibodies to develop herd immunity, and currently less than five percent are infected.
“We hope this slowly happens naturally, before a vaccine,” Reidy said.
“We don’t know if immunity lasts,” Baltierra added. “A significant number of people have not just had symptoms and gotten better. Symptoms last six to eight weeks. We just don’t know enough.”
The Jefferson County Health Department has been contact tracing individuals, with the help of the National Guard.
“The health department calls those who test positive and ask them who they may have been in contact with,” Reidy said. “The health department staff then call those individuals and say they may have been exposed and ask them to self-quarantine for 14 days. It is a tedious process.”
When asked about where to obtain a COVID-19 test, the panelists had limited information to share, unless someone has symptoms or has been exposed, such as at Myrtle Beach. Citizens hoping to get tested can call and speak with a “screener” who would then determine if a test was necessary or advised.
“If it’s appropriate to have a test, it can be done at WVU Medicine’s urgent care facilities,” Baltierra said.
When questioned about the number of deaths attributed “from” COVID-19 as opposed to those “with” COVID-19, Reidy explained the cause of death can be both.
“There are contributions from other things potentially,” Reidy said, mentioning that multiple causes or contributors to death can be placed on a death certificate, clarifying his statement that death can be both “of COVID and “with COVID.”
A main point made by the panelists was that COVID-19 may be here for a while.
“It is real,” Baltierra said. “It is not political. We may not know everything about it, but that doesn’t make it less real. How our reactions come is political, and that is unfortunate.”