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BLUEFIELD — Mercer County has seen another COVID-related death and has a cumulative total of 813 cases as of Tuesday, almost doubling the number in just over month.

Brenda Donithan, administrator of the Mercer County Health Department, said a 73-year-old man died at Princeton Community Hospital, the county’s 32nd COVID death.

“He was not connected to a long-term care facility,” she added.

The growing number of cases has continued for weeks, she said, with 17 new cases reported Tuesday and 12 probable.

“We have 343 active cases,” she said, with 470 recovered.

The increase in cases has placed Mercer County in the gold category on the County Alert System as of Tuesday.

Donithan said that means the health department must set up free drive-through testing within 48 hours, so it will be available at the department on Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Outbreaks continue, she said, in one church (five cases), four schools, a mental health facility and a care agency.

Donithan said the cases are mostly attributable to community spread and “it’s amazing what there is out there. It is widespread.”

The cases have increased so rapidly, up from 550 on Oct. 14, contact tracing has been difficult, she said.

“It is so overwhelming with them coming in on the second wave,” she said of the surge.

Donithan said the spread seems to be mostly from people congregating and maybe not following protocol.

“Wear a mask and wear it right,” she said. “Don’t wear it under your nose. And use social distancing. If you don’t have to go out, then I don’t think I would go out. Until everybody follows the protocol it will keep spreading.”

That may be tough with the weather turning colder, as more people head inside and with holiday gatherings on the horizon, she said, but following protocol is the way to stop the spread.

A vaccine is not yet available and she is not sure when it will be and is also concerned many may not take it when it is.

Mercer County schools remain closed this week because of outbreaks.

Other counties continue to see issues as well.

Monroe County is in orange on the color code system as the positive cases continue to rise, hitting 237 with three probable on Tuesday. Schools remain closed this week with remote learning only.

The Monroe County Health Department posted an explanation of why cases are classified as probable and the subsequent action taken.

“Per CDC guidelines, a rapid antigen COVID-19 test without a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) confirmation from a laboratory, must be reported as a probable case,” the post said. “The rapid antigen COVID-19 tests without a PCR confirmation are the test that allows the patient to know his or her results the same day. However, the change in the case definition does not change how the case is handled. All positive COVID-19 test results with or without a PCR confirmation are treated the same in regard to collecting patient information, isolation requirements, and contract tracing.”

Bland County, Va. saw its first case in schools this week.

Schools Superintendent Scott Meade said a Bland County High School student tested positive.

“At this time, it has been determined that due to the timeline of the student’s exposure and attendance, there is no immediate risk to other students or staff members,” he said. “Bland County Public Schools will continue to work closely with the health department to conduct any necessary contact tracing.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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