Brooke cancels graduation, prom amid COVID-19 surge

WELLSBURG — A rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Brooke County has impacted a planned in-person graduation ceremony for Brooke High School’s Class of 2020 and caused Wellsburg officials to limit access to City Hall.

On Monday, Brooke County school officials announced that after consulting Mike Bolen, administrator of the county’s health department, the decision was made to cancel the commencement program that had been scheduled for July 23.

Superintendent Jeffrey Crook said, “We felt with the spike, with things going up, it was the best move. It was a collaborative decision and not one we wanted to make, but we felt it was in the best interest for the public.”

“We only get one time to make the wrong call,” he added.

Crook confirmed that plans had called for the commencement to be held at the school’s stadium, a site that could support social distancing. But no one could predict whether rain would force it to be moved indoors.

He said requiring attendees to sit apart and wear masks was considered “but you just aren’t sure that people will follow” such conditions.

Crook said a prom eyed for St. Francis Centre, instead of the Pittsburgh location originally planned, also has been canceled because of the close contact that would have been involved among participants.

He noted a few months ago a virtual commencement was held and aired through local television and the internet.

The announcement came as Gov. Jim Justice ordered public gatherings be limited to 25 people, and the Brooke County Health Department reported four new cases of residents testing positive for the coronavirus, bringing the number of active cases to 13.

The new cases include two women in their 20s, a woman in her 50s and a female under 20 years of age.

A fifth person has been declared probable because of the symptoms involved, pending testing needed for confirmation.

Since April the Brooke health department has reported 27 confirmed cases, a low number compared to other areas.

But local health officials are concerned because the number of active cases has risen from few to none to double digits within two weeks.

On Monday, the Hancock County Health Department reported 14 active cases, while the Jefferson County Health Department reported 45 active cases.

In response to such reports, Wellsburg city officials have called for City Hall to be closed except for appointments.

Mayor Sue Simonetti said as in April, residents and others are asked to conduct their business with the city by mail or phone.

She confirmed the city’s water and sewer customers may use credit cards to pay their bills by phone.

Simonetti said in some cases, appointments may be made between City Hall’s regular hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. by calling (304) 737-2104.

Since the virus surfaced, public health officials have declined to release much personal information about the patients, citing their right to privacy.

But Bolen and others have stressed each is interviewed through a procedure called contract tracing to determine others with whom they have had the most contact and would be most prone to contract the virus.

Through that process, they have discovered individuals who are asymptomatic, meaning they tested positive for the virus while displaying no symptoms.

Symptoms of the coronavirus can include a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, with the latter three common among younger patients, as well as chest or abdominal pain from coughing or vomiting.

Because the disease is airborne, Justice has ordered everyone in the state to wear masks at all public places where social distancing can’t be maintained.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)


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