Upshur County Courthouse
The Upshur County Courthouse / File photo by Katie Kuba

Emergency meeting: COVID-19 outbreak reported in Upshur County Courthouse, four people test positive so far

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Commission on Monday held an emergency meeting by telephone to address a COVID-19 outbreak involving four cases believed to be related to the Upshur County Courthouse.

The outbreak originated in the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office, according to information discussed during the emergency meeting that took place at 1 p.m. on Labor Day.

Commission members voted unanimously to close the Upshur County Courthouse for public access at least through Friday, Sept. 11.

President Terry Cutright said the emergency meeting was called so the commission could consider reimplementing some of the measures they had taken earlier in the year to limit the spread of the virus.

“The commissioners are talking about going back to the operation system we used before, with skeleton crews and security at the door,” Cutright said.

Commissioner Sam Nolte said he felt limiting access to the courthouse and returning to the practice of employees working remotely from home as much as possible would help contain the outbreak.

“By taking these measures, it will hopefully keep things from spreading,” Nolte said.

Nolte suggested the courthouse offices close at least through the current week.

“We can extend it through the next week depending on how this progresses,” Nolte said.

Commissioner Kristie Tenney made the motion to restrict public access to all offices within the Upshur County Courthouse Annex and Administrative Annex.

“I know before, we had the animal control facility only open to the public by appointment only,” Tenney said. “I would like for that to also happen within that motion and have the elected officials use their discretion to maintain their staffing within their offices to do their essential duties with employees using telework.”

Tenney also pointed to some of the measures the various offices have taken to limit public exposure, including establishing a dropbox outside the courthouse.

“As far as I know, the box outside of the courthouse annex seems to be working well,” Tenney said. “If the sheriff is comfortable with the tax office utilizing the box outside of the annex to collect tax payments, we’ll do that until further notice.”

Courthouse employees will be tested for COVID-19, and Cutright said as those results come back, the commission could take additional actions as needed.

Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department Nurse Director Susan McKisic told those on the call there is a 14-day incubation period with COVID-19, noting that with the four cases related to the courthouse outbreak, there are now eight active cases in the county.

“We have had some people who have tested positive who have had no signs or symptoms whatsoever, but because they have had a positive contact, they go get tested,” McKisic said. “They have been asymptomatic and have tested positive. There is a 14-day incubation period, so we are recommending these people don’t get tested immediately – give it a few more days.”

McKisic said that if someone who has had exposure to the virus initially tests negative, they still need to quarantine throughout the entire incubation period.

“They are still under quarantine, even if their results come back negative, because they have had that contact and the incubation period is not up yet,” she said.

One question addressed during the telephonic meeting was the health department’s recommendation for anyone who has been around someone who has tested positive, and McKisic said since this is classified as an outbreak, those with potential exposure all need to be tested.

Nolte said how long the courthouse and courthouse annex remain closed will depend on the information that’s been gathered by the week’s end.

Cutright said he elected officials need to talk to their employees.

“Talk to your employees and let them know if they have any symptoms, not to come in,” Cutright said. “Have them be tested again.”

McKisic said supervisors in all departments need to stress that folks are not to come in to work if they are symptomatic. She additionally described the quarantining process.

“The health department will contact the person directly and go over the quarantine guidelines,” McKisic said. “We send them an instruction sheet and also a self-monitoring symptom log. We make contact with them every day until their quarantine timeline is up.”

She said if people become symptomatic, their quarantine is extended.

Additional steps will be taken at the Upshur County Courthouse with cleaning and disinfecting, according to Cutright.

“We have plans to disinfect the Sheriff’s Office with a smoker/steamer, and possibly some of the vehicles,” Cutright said.

My Buckhannon contacted Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus to ask if this outbreak had any bearing on schools reopening Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

Stankus said it did not.

“The map posted by the West Virginia Department of Education, which is pulled from the DHHR site, will guide our school schedules on a weekly basis,” Stankus said. “Our color on Saturday determines which of our school plans will be implemented and the level of extra-curricular activities.”

Stankus said on Sept. 5, the map of Upshur County was green so the county may start in-person instruction on Sept. 8.

“If our county turns red during the week, then students must go to remote learning the following day,” Stankus said.

Upshur County would need to report more than 40 new COVID-19 cases over a 7-day period to turn red.

Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner said he had been in contact with the commission. City services will continue as normal, but officials will closely monitor the situation, he said.

“I appreciate county commissioner Nolte contacting me this afternoon to bring me up to speed on the outbreak at the courthouse,” Skinner said. “From the city’s perspective, we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops.”

Skinner noted the city has several safety requirements in place.

“We are continuing to require visitors to city hall to wear a mask indoors when conducting business indoors,” he said. “We’re also continuing to mandate six feet apart requirement. Other than that, all of our departments are continuing to run on regular schedules; our employees continue to practice social distancing while interacting with the public.”

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