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Virus spreads in Appalachian counties

Graphic by Janelle Patterson While the numbers of confirmed cases remained low in Appalachian counties of Ohio and West Virginia, experts project those numbers to rise throughout April and into May.

Batten down the hatches ⁠– that’s the advice Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health gave Friday.

“My very early prediction on this was (for the peak to strike) end (of) April/mid-May… It’s closer at hand,” said Acton, predicting the coming surge in COVID-19 infections in the Buckeye state.“We may have as many as 10,000 new cases per day.”

She said with additional modeling through work with Cleveland Clinic, she upped that estimate from 8,000 new cases per day at the peak in Ohio, which she gave during the state daily press conference Thursday.

“I’m sad to say we have 19 deaths here in Ohio to report to you,” she added Friday. “That age range is of 58 years of age to 93.”

The Appalachian Regional Commission released county-specific risk data Thursday, covering the region’s 420 counties in 13 states of the U.S.

“As of March 26th, at 1:30 pm (Eastern Standard Time), there were 1,686 confirmed COVID-19 cases across 208 Appalachian counties,” read the federal commission’s press release.

In Ohio, Washington County’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was confirmed on March 18.

The county now has two confirmed cases as of March 21, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Dr. Francis Wadskier, Memorial Health System’s infectious disease specialist, said both Washington County patients were immediately quarantined at home when first presenting symptoms.

“They were following the instructions right away,” said Wadskier on Friday.

But the virus is already present throughout the rural Appalachian region.

“Within about two weeks it’s going to hit harder and going to be hitting our hospitals and hospital admissions,” shared Gov. Mike DeWine, noting hospital bed capacity is not ready to meet projected peak numbers of cases in May. “We need to go up three times in our capacity.”

Wadskier cautioned rural Americans to not be fooled by a false sense of security.

“Everyone is at risk, yes, older adults and those with preexisting conditions are more at risk but all people, even if they live in a rural area, can still contract this,” said Wadskier.

Ohio’s first confirmed death from the pandemic was on March 17, 39 days after the state’s first confirmed case on Feb. 7.

The Appalachian Regional Commission used data compiled by the technology and geographic information system company Esri, Johns Hopkins University and U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2014-2018 Community Survey Data and Definitive Healthcare to produce not only interactive maps to track how the virus spreads through the 13-state region but also planning reports for each individual Appalachian county.

For the surrounding 22 Appalachian counties of the Mid-Ohio Valley, there are only 1,952 licensed hospital beds and only 81 of those are in intensive care units.

But Acton said Friday, 20-25 percent of Ohio’s confirmed cases so far have required hospitalization and 9 percent so far have required admittance to an intensive care unit.

“We don’t have enough beds if everyone gets sick at once,” said Wadskier. “If we don’t have the resources to help every patient that comes in the hospital, that increases the chances of complications and ultimately death.”

Wadskier also asked that the elderly and both family and neighbors of the elderly start to plan for infection now.

“Make a plan for who is going to get their groceries, how will you make sure they’re still getting their medication,” she advised. “Talk with your providers about how to be prepared.”

And she emphasized that even those who present mild forms of the pandemic’s symptoms, namely a fever, cough and shortness of breath, will be monitored not only by hospital staff but also by the Ohio Department of Health.

WASHINGTON COUNTY

In Washington County, the ARC identified 24,138 individuals, of the county’s 61,071 estimated population, presently most at-risk.

Of those, 13,498 (22 percent of the estimated county population) are 65 years old or older.

The county has 243 licensed hospital beds, only 11 of which are intensive care beds.

As of Friday, two cases were confirmed in the county.

WOOD COUNTY, W.Va.

In Wood County, the ARC identified 33,999 individuals of the county’s 85,692 estimated population, presently most at-risk.

Of those, 18,308 are 65 years old or older.

The county has 313 licensed hospital beds, only 18 of which are intensive care beds.

Surrounding Appalachian county data:

NOBLE COUNTY

Identified at risk: 5,496.

Population 65 and older: 3,545.

Licensed hospital beds: 23.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 11.

MORGAN COUNTY

Identified at risk: 6,244.

Population 65 and older: 3,292.

Licensed hospital beds: 0.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

MONROE COUNTY

Identified at risk: 6,272.

Population 65 and older: 3,392.

Licensed hospital beds: 0.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

HARRISON COUNTY

Identified at risk: 6,410.

Population 65 and older: 3,715.

Licensed hospital beds: 25.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

JEFFERSON COUNTY

Identified at risk: 27,014.

Population 65 and older: 15,424.

Licensed hospital beds: 256.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 12.

BELMONT COUNTY

Identified at risk: 24,854.

Population 65 and older: 15,130.

Licensed hospital beds: 165.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

GUERNSEY COUNTY

Identified at risk: 14,758.

Population 65 and older: 8,077.

Licensed hospital beds: 255.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 11.

MUSKINGUM COUNTY

Identified at risk: 30,029.

Population 65 and older: 16,421.

Licensed hospital beds: 321.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 24.

PERRY COUNTY

Identified at risk: 11,613.

Population 65 and older: 6,153.

Licensed hospital beds: 0.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

ATHENS COUNTY

Identified at risk: 17,796.

Population 65 and older: 8,868.

Licensed hospital beds: 156.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

CALHOUN COUNTY, W.Va.

Identified at risk: 3,360.

Population 65 and older: 1,806.

Licensed hospital beds: 42.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

DODDRIDGE, COUNTY, W.Va.

Identified at risk: 2,865.

Population 65 and older: 1,691.

Licensed hospital beds: 0.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

GILMER COUNTY, W.Va.

Identified at risk: 2,594.

Population 65 and older: 1,439.

Licensed hospital beds: 0.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

JACKSON COUNTY, W.Va.

Identified at risk: 10,612.

Population 65 and older: 6,206.

Licensed hospital beds: 46.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

PLEASANTS COUNTY, W.Va.

Identified at risk: 2,855.

Population 65 and older: 1,589.

Licensed hospital beds: 0.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

RITCHIE COUNTY, W.Va.

Identified at risk: 3,851.

Population 65 and older: 2,242.

Licensed hospital beds: 0.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

ROANE COUNTY, W.Va.

Identified at risk: 6,327.

Population 65 and older: 3,247.

Licensed hospital beds: 60.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

TYLER COUNTY, W.Va.

Identified at risk: 3,322.

Population 65 and older: 2,135.

Licensed hospital beds: 12.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

WETZEL COUNTY, W.Va.

Identified at risk: 6,178.

Population 65 and older: 3,789.

Licensed hospital beds: 58.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 5.

WIRT COUNTY, W.Va.

Identified at risk: 2,530.

Population 65 and older: 1,204.

Licensed hospital beds: 0.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 0.

Evan Bevins contributed to this article.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

By the numbers

In the surrounding 22 Ohio and West Virginia counties, 141,171 people are 65 years old or older.

Ohio (Washington, Noble, Morgan, Monroe, Harrison, Jefferson, Belmont, Guernsey, Muskingum, Perry and Athens counties):

Total at risk: 174,624.

Population 65 years old or older: 97,515.

Licensed hospital beds: 1,421.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 58.

West Virginia (Wood, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Tyler, Wetzel and Wirt counties):

Total at risk: 78,493.

Population 65 years old or older: 43,565.

Licensed hospital beds: 531.

Intensive Care Unit beds: 23

Officials continue to ask individuals to stay at home as COVID-19 continues to spread.

Source: Appalachian Regional Commission.

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