Board of Health

BLUEFIELD — A downward trend in Mercer County’s active COVID-19 cases is good, and the public’s greater willingness to wear masks and socially distance is a contributing factor, the county’s health department administrator said Wednesday.

Last week, Mercer County had over 1,000 active COVID-19 cases. This number had decreased to 739 by Thursday.

“Certainly, it’s an encouraging sign,” said Roger Topping, administrator of the Mercer County Health Department. “Any time we can get the cases into a downward trend is good. I think these numbers are going down because we are past the holidays.”

Thanksgiving and Christmas increased travel and the times when people congregated with each other, but now residents are not getting into close contact so much, Topping said. People are also taking more precautions.

“I believe they are wearing their masks more often and social distancing more often,” Topping said, adding that he sees more people taking precautions when he’s out in public.

While the downward trend in active cases is good and more people are being vaccinated, now is not the time to relax precautions.

“We need to double down even harder now,” Topping said. “The shot and the masks and washing their hands are all part of what we have to do to defeat this COVID.”

Three new deaths were reported this week bringing the total deaths in Mercer County to 91.

COVID-19 vaccination clinics, which are by appointment only, are continuing this week. In Mercer County, the clinic will be held today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Karen Preservati Center/ Princeton Rescue Squad Training Center, 704 Maple Street in Princeton. By appointment only, the clinic will administer the second dose for individuals who were vaccinated on Jan. 4, 11, and 14 by Mercer County Health Department.

More vaccine was slated to head for West Virginia. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, said he was notified Tuesday that West Virginia will be receiving an increase in the weekly Moderna vaccine allocation.

“(Tuesday), I was notified West Virginia will see a 1,500 dose increase in our weekly Moderna vaccine allocation. West Virginia continues to lead the nation in effective and safe COVID-19 vaccination distribution and I am pleased that these efforts are being rewarded with an increase in these vital doses. As vaccine production increases, I will continue to work with the Biden Administration to quickly procure more doses so every West Virginian who wants a vaccine can get one,” Manchin said.

Health officials in West Virginia and Virginia continued monitoring for new COVID-19 strains.

The Virginia Department of Health announced Wednesday that a case of the SARSCoV- 2 variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in a sample from an adult resident of Northwest Virginia who recently returned to Virginia after international travel. The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. A preliminary report from experts in the United Kingdom indicates that this variant causes more severe illness than other variants, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding, health officials said. The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing that provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. DCLS has informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the case. In addition to this case in the Northwest Region, Virginia has now identified three cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in the Northern Region, for a total of four cases with the B.1.1.7 variant in the Commonwealth, health officials said.

With surveillance efforts, it is likely that additional cases will continue to be identified in Virginia, VDH officials said.

DCLS began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth. To date, DCLS has sequenced more than 10 percent of positive samples received by the state lab, and is working with other labs in Virginia to solicit additional positive samples to sequence so public health officials can get a representation of variants circulating throughout Virginia.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline. com

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