By SAMANTHA PERRY

and CHARLES OWENS

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Two residents of Mercer County have died as a result of COVID-19, state officials confirmed Tuesday.

West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Bill J. Crouch said a 77-year old female and an 87-year old female, both from Mercer County, have died as a result of COVID-19.

“We are deeply saddened by this news, a loss to both the families and our state,” Crouch said.

Dr. Kathy Wides, who serves as Mercer County's Health Officer, confirmed to the Daily Telegraph earlier in the day Tuesday that three residents of the Princeton Health Care Center who contracted COVID-19 have died. However, she was only able to confirm one of the three cases as an official COVID-19 death.

Wide said all three residents of the nursing home died within the past week.

In his statement, Crouch didn’t say whether the two Mercer County deaths were affiliated with the nursing home in Princeton, which has been identified by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice as a major COVID-19 outbreak site. Justice ordered members of the West Virginia National Guard to respond to the nursing home Monday to assist with COVID-19 testing.

Wides said she could confirm that COVID-19 was ruled as the cause of death for one of three nursing home cases.

“There have been two additional deaths, however we do not have an official state sanctioned cause of death yet,” Wides said. “So I cannot say that those two deaths were COVID.”

Wides said the three nursing home residents had "other significant life-threatening issues."

Wides said a death certificate, and official cause of death, for those two cases should be forthcoming in the next couple of days.

Wides said she could not disclose any specific details regarding the three cases due to federal privacy laws.

Stefanie Compton, administrator of the Princeton Health Care Center, posted the following statement on the health care center's website Tuesday night.

"In our efforts to be open and transparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are very saddened to report that a resident of Princeton Health Care Center who tested positive for COVID-19 has passed away. However, it was not just a loss of a resident, it was the loss of a member of our PHCC family. This pandemic knows no bounds. It is impacting every community, every health care facility, and most importantly every family. We pray for the loved ones of this resident, as that is the greatest source of comfort one can offer at a time such as this. For privacy and dignity purposes, no additional information or details will be released about the individual’s death. The Mercer County Health Department is required to report deaths in an area where COVID-19 is occurring. We appreciate the community’s support and prayers as we grieve the loss of one of our own."

The health care center reported earlier in the day Tuesday that another seven individuals at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections at the Mercer County nursing home to 42.

The number involves both staff members and residents of the health care center who have tested positive for the virus.

A statement released by the health care center earlier in the day Tuesday said the facility has requested assistance from the West Virginia National Guard for testing purposes. It said the health care center will undergo a fourth round of COVID-19 mass testing on Wednesday and that additional assistance also has been requested from local and state health officials.

“All current residents who are symptomatic and/or confirmed cases are being isolated to specific COVID-19 designated care areas,” the statement said. “Those individuals are being cared for by designated/dedicated staff members. Many who have tested positive have been without symptoms.”

The statement added that the health care center does have travel policies in place.

“We have and continue to have travel policies in effect,” the statement said. “That includes a combination of testing and increased surveillance for COVID related symptoms for staff following vacation time. Individual testing of employees and residents have also been completed when indicated since March. We have and continue to limit our residents outside travel unless the situation is medically necessary.”

The outbreak at the health care center has pushed the total number of COVID-19 cases to date in Mercer County to 111.

The total number of active virus cases, or people who are in quarantine in Mercer County, now stands at 78, the DHHR said Tuesday.

Justice ordered the West Virginia National Guard to respond to the health care center Monday to assist with the virus response, including testing of residents and employees.

“We are trying in every way we can to suppress this,” Justice said Monday of the Mercer County outbreak.

An earlier COVID-19 death also occurred in Mercer County during the state lockdown period, and it involved a transient who wasn’t a resident of Mercer County. That individual died at Princeton Community Hospital as a result of virus-related complications.

New virus cases also were reported Tuesday in Tazewell and McDowell counties.

McDowell County reported an increase of five virus-related cases in the last 24 hours, according to the McDowell County Health Department. That brings the county’s cumulative total of virus cases to date to 21.

The health department said all five new cases are the result of community spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In neighboring Virginia, Tazewell County continues to outpace parts of Southwest Virginia in terms of new COVID-19 cases.

Nine new virus cases were reported in Tazewell County over the last 24 hours, increasing its cumulative total of infections to date from 68 to 77, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Two recent virus-related hospitalizations also have been reported in Tazewell County.

Despite the surge in new cases, there have been no coronavirus-related deaths in Tazewell County. However, virus-related deaths have been reported in counties neighboring Tazewell.

The number of virus cases in neighboring Russell County is lower with a cumulative total of 52 infections. However, eight people have been hospitalized in Russell County as a result of COVID-19 with one virus-related death.

Neighboring Smyth County has a higher cumulative total virus count of 93 cases with six virus-related hospitalizations and two virus-related deaths.

Tazewell County also has surpassed neighboring Buchanan County in terms of its cumulative total of virus cases. Buchanan County currently stands at 64 cases with two virus-related hospitalizations.

Giles County is still holding at 20 cases with one virus-related hospitalization and Bland County is still reporting only seven cases with no hospitalizations.

Wythe County is now up to three virus-related deaths with a cumulative total of 94 cases and 10 virus-related hospitalizations.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, according to the Associated Press. However, for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

— Contact Samantha Perry at sperry@bdtonline.com. Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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