Jackson County Health Department accommodates new COVID-19 protocols

Suzette Lowe
Special to Jackson Newspapers

The Jackson County Health Department has moved into a different phase of addressing the COVID-19 health crisis.

Because of recent changes in protocols by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR), quarantine and contact tracing will be conducted differently.

“Now when you have a positive COVID test result, you need to contact those you have been in close contact with,” explained Wendy Staats, emergency preparedness coordinator for the department. “When a physician’s office reports a test, we will text or email guidance on quarantine and isolation. You will no longer receive a call from us.”

With holiday gatherings, the number of positive cases is expected to increase in the next few weeks. One other factor that concerns health department officials is the recent policy change by the local board of education.

“Since masks are no longer required at after-school events, we expect there to be more spread,” said Administrator Amy Haskins.

With the recent hiring by the board of education of a coordinator for COVID-related issues, the health department will no longer be doing contact tracing for school cases.

Pam Crites, whose position is funded by a grant from the West Virginia Department of Education, will track and contract trace positive cases in the school system. According to Superintendent of Schools Blaine Hess, Crites will be the point of contact for COVID quarantine of the schools.

“It’s going to be a big job for that person,” said Staats.

The basic quarantining protocol for any positive person is to self-isolate for five days. If asymptomatic after those five days, then isolation ends.

“Wearing a mask after the five days is strongly recommended for an additional five days,” said Staats. “This means a well-fitting mask that goes over the nose. Many people don’t wear them properly and to do so is extremely important.”

Both Haskins and Staats stress that vaccination is the key.

For anyone who is fully vaccinated, which includes the booster shot, no quarantine is necessary. Testing is encouraged five days after exposure.

“There is a time-frame for each of the shots,” said Haskins. “For Pfizer and Moderna, having vaccination within the last six months is considered a ‘fresh' vaccine. For Johnson & Johnson, it’s two months. No quarantine is required. For those who have received the vaccine more than six months or two months respectively, or who have not had the booster, quarantine for five days after exposure.”

Booster shots can be given six months after receiving the last vaccination.

The good news is that the strains of COVID seem to be weakening.

“But that is only good news for the vaccinated,” said Haskins. “Strains, such as Omicron, are weaker for those who are protected but are still attacking and causing severe issues for the unvaccinated and the immune-compromised.”

Currently there is no report of the omicron variant in Jackson County.

In December, there were 17 COVID-related deaths in the county.

The Jackson County Health Department honors all those from Jackson County lost to COVID.

“Only one of those deaths was an unvaccinated person,” stated Staats.

The vaccination rate in Jackson County compares favorably with the state average in some categories.

Ages 61 and up have a full vaccination rate of 73% as compared with 71.9% state-wide. For ages 21-60, the average percentage is much lower for both Jackson County (44%) and West Virginia (48%).

The health department has vaccination clinics scheduled for January, all to take place at the building in Ripley.

Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, along with appropriate booster shots, will be given Thursday, Jan. 6, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday and Friday, Jan. 11 and 14, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 15, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Wednesday, Jan. 19, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Monday, Jan. 24, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; and Thursday, Jan. 27, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. No appointments are necessary. The Federal Drug Administration has approved boosters for those 12 years of age and older.

With home tests now an option, Haskins stresses the importance of positive cases contacting their local physician. In the case of a child testing positive, the individual school should be notified.

“It’s vital that any positive test be included in medical records,” Haskins said. “This is especially true for children and those with underlying health issues. The health department will not be monitoring any home tests results.”

COVID testing is available at many locations in the county.

Rapid tests can be taken at the Jackson General Hospital clinic at Walmart, Fruth Pharmacy clinic, Ohio Valley Physicians in Ravenswood and The Hughes-Morad Clinic in Ripley. Drive-through testing, currently free of charge, can be found at Fruth and Walgreens. Other testing sites, which bill insurance, are River Valley Health & Wellness and Ripley Family Medicine.

Regardless of where or how COVID tests are administered, Staats says the key to containing the virus is vaccination, including the booster.

“You aren’t considered fully vaccinated until you get that booster,” she said. “We don’t want to lose any more of our people to this disease. We are offering you multiple opportunities.”

The extra hurdle this year is other viruses that are hitting the area.

“Last year, we had very little flu,” said Haskins. “We were masking up and being far more cautious. Now our hospitals are filling up, not only with COVID, but with flu and many other viruses.”

As of early January, using data reported to the state, Jackson County had 130 active COVID cases.