A National Guardsman prepares to pass out masks to those waiting to be tested for COVID-19 during recent testing in Smithers. Although a number of businesses have opened during West Virginia Strong: The Comeback, Montgomery, Smithers and Gauley Bridge have decided not to reopen their city halls yet.

An asymptomatic Fayette County day care worker was identified during recent COVID-19 screening ordered by Gov. Jim Justice.

According to a Friday, May 22 press release from the Fayette County Health Department, an employee of A Place to Grow in Oak Hill was confirmed positive for COVID-19 on May 22, but the individual has indicated no symptoms of the virus.

On May 6, Justice announced an executive order directing the DHHR and the West Virginia National Guard to test all day care employees, as well as all residents and staff members at assisted living facilities and residential care communities throughout the state, for COVID-19. According to FCHD Administrator Teri Harlan, the majority of employees at day care centers considered critical in the county have been tested.

Testing of all assisted living centers in the county was recently completed, as well. Earlier, all nursing home employees and residents were tested.

Harlan said families with children at A Place to Grow were notified when the positive case was confirmed, and children were immediately released on Friday so disinfection of the facility by West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources guidelines can occur. Close contacts will be quarantined and monitored for 14 days, according to the release.

The Fayette County Health Department is working closely with the facility to assure the safety of all the children and staff, the release read. Testing is being offered for all day care staff and children through the FCHD. A special testing event dedicated strictly to A Place to Grow was to be held on Tuesday, May 26.

The FCHD also had three additional testing events scheduled this week. On Tuesday, May 26 and Wednesday, May 27, testing was held in Mount Hope. On Thursday, May 28, barrier-free testing will take place from 2 to 6 p.m. at Oak Hill High School. The latter two testings will be in partnership with the New River Health Association. This week's testings are part of an initiative by Gov. Jim Justice that was developed by the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, DHHR and the West Virginia National Guard and targets residents who have struggled to be seen by a physician or do not have insurance to pay for testing. This optional testing is free and available to all residents in selected counties, including asymptomatic individuals.

Those under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Additional testing will occur on May 29-30 in Berkeley, Jefferson, Kanawha and Mineral counties, with locations being finalized and announced this week.

Through Tuesday morning, Fayette County had 45 confirmed cases of COVID-19. In alignment with updated definitions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the DHHR's statewide dashboard now includes probable cases, the agency said in its evening update on Friday. Although a small portion of the cases to date, probable cases involve individuals who have symptoms and either serologic (antibody) or epidemiologic (e.g., a link to a confirmed case) evidence of disease, but no confirmatory test. Public health officials take all the same precautions for probable cases as confirmed cases, so those will now be included on the dashboard.

"Inclusion of probable cases in the publicly reported case counts more accurately represents disease burden in communities and provides us with better information to drive behavioral change and appropriate response," said Dr. Cathy Slemp, state health officer and commissioner for DHHR's Bureau for Public Health.

Many of the early Fayette County cases occurred at Montgomery General Hospital. A hospital employee was originally confirmed positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, May 3 following an off-site test on May 2. An outbreak investigation ensued and, by May 6, nine MGH employees and six patients were confirmed as positive. Several of the county's more recent cases also were, in some capacity, connected to Montgomery General. That included three of the four most recent confirmed cases, said Harlan.

Last week, COVID-19 testing occurred at the J.W. and Hazel Ruby West Virginia Welcome Center in Mount Hope and at Midland Trail High School in Hico, the latter in cooperation with Rainelle Medical Center. Harlan said late last week all test results received so far were negative.

Through May 22, Fayette County had three deaths due to COVID-19, and 17 patients had recovered.

Visit the dashboard at www.coronavirus.wv.gov for more information.

Through Thursday morning, May 28, cases by county included (case confirmed by lab test/probable case): Barbour (9/0), Berkeley (286/11), Boone (9/0), Braxton (2/0), Brooke (4/0), Cabell (58/2), Calhoun (2/0), Clay (2/0), Fayette (45/0), Gilmer (10/0), Grant (10/1), Greenbrier (9/0), Hampshire (23/0), Hancock (15/2), Hardy (38/0), Harrison (39/1), Jackson (135/0), Jefferson (163/3), Kanawha (214/2), Lewis (6/0), Lincoln (5/0), Logan (17/0), Marion (51/0), Marshall (28/0), Mason (15/0), McDowell (6/0), Mercer (13/0), Mineral (39/2), Mingo (5/1), Monongalia (121/9), Monroe (6/1), Morgan (17/1), Nicholas (8/0), Ohio (41/0), Pendleton (9/1), Pleasants (3/1), Pocahontas (16/1), Preston (17/5), Putnam (35/0), Raleigh (15/1), Randolph (117/0), Ritchie (1/0), Roane (9/0), Summers (1/0), Taylor (8/0), Tucker (4/0), Tyler (3/0), Upshur (6/1), Wayne (97/0), Wetzel (8/0), Wirt (4/0), Wood (50/3), Wyoming (3/0).

Implementation of changes to the DHHR dashboard on May 22 resulted in a one-time larger than usual increase in cases and a one-time unusual decrease in the number of lab tests due to changes to the dashboard and reporting of probable cases, according to a DHHR press release. The Bureau for Public Health continues to make improvements to the www.coronavirus.wv.gov dashboard with helpful information, including searchable county-specific information with demographics on positive cases and individuals tested.

"This information will better inform individuals about what is happening in their own county," said Bill J. Crouch, DHHR Cabinet Secretary. "It can help guide action, emphasizing the importance of both individual and community prevention efforts. The team at the Bureau for Public Health, led by Dr. Cathy Slemp, her staff and the many partners, are to be commended for their hard work, dedication and research to make this level of detail available."

The dashboard will now report both active and recovered cases by county. "Recovery data from case investigations allows us to look at outcomes – following individuals through to their end of illness," Slemp said.

As businesses open up and vehicle and people traffic flow increases, local health officials still stress vigilance in the coming days and weeks. The FCHD ask individuals to continue practicing social distancing, to wash their hands and to wear face coverings when in public.

Anyone with questions or who feels the need to be tested is urged to contact their primary care provider, or call the health department at 304-574-1617.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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