Coronavirus cases are on the rise in the Eastern Panhandle. Berkeley County has counted 22 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in the past three days.
Berkeley County’s total number of positive cases, as of Friday morning, is 325 with 14 probable cases, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and it has the highest number of positive cases in the state.
Speaking at a press briefing Thursday, Gov. Jim Justice said state officials are closely watching the situation in the Eastern Panhandle.
“Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan Counties are counties that we are watching nonstop,” Justice said. “You know, they're probably the most exposed counties from the standpoint of all the stuff from DC to Virginia.”
State health officer Dr. Cathy Slemp said while the numbers are higher in Berkeley County, the percent positivity of cases is staying fairly consistent.
“What we're looking at ... is both the level of disease and trends, or changes in disease,” Slemp explained. “So, we're seeing higher levels of disease, but it's been staying kind of steady along that path.”
But despite higher levels in the Eastern Panhandle, the state is moving forward with reopening plans. On Friday, casinos and movie theaters are set to reopen statewide.
Health officer for the Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department and the Jefferson County Health Department Dr. Terrence Reidy said in an interview over Skype that for the past few weeks, Berkeley County on average, sees about 25 new cases each week -- but recently that’s increased to between 40 and 50 a week.
The region has also recently increased access to coronavirus testing.
“The hope had been that people would have understood by this point what they need to do to decrease the risk of infection,” Reidy said. “And we're seeing that that's not happening. We're seeing it both in the numbers of the rising cases and the activities of people getting together and not doing the social distancing or wearing masks; the simple things that do make a difference.”
He cautions entities and residents in the Eastern Panhandle to slow down as things reopen and be mindful. He said just because reopening can happen doesn’t necessarily mean it should yet, and businesses should not operate in the same way as they did prior to the virus outbreak.
He adds that residents should take all necessary precautions, such as wearing a mask in public spaces and to still consider using curbside options at restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses when possible.
The governor’s office hasn’t said whether it will slow reopening in the Eastern Panhandle region.
At least 82 people in West Virginia have died from the virus, and 2,113 have tested positive, according to state health officials Friday morning.