By CHARLES OWENS

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — The coronavirus pandemic tightened its grip on Mercer County Wednesday, with five new cases being reported in a single day. All five of the new virus infections were related to travel, according to the Mercer County Health Department.

Two new virus infections also were reported Wednesday in neighboring Tazewell County.

Mercer County has now reported 15 new virus cases in the last nine days, a troubling surge in new infections. The cumulative total of virus cases to date in the county also climbed to 28. Of that number, 13 involve people who have already recovered from the virus. But another 15 individuals are now in quarantine, as they try to recover from the novel virus of which there is no current vaccine or universally agreed upon form of treatment.

Matthew Bragg, sanitarian for the Mercer County Health Department, said all five of the new cases reported Wednesday involved travel. Gov. Jim Justice, in his daily COVID-19 media briefing Wednesday, also announced another infection in Mercer County related to travel to Myrtle Beach, S.C.. It is assumed that the case Justice mentioned is one of the 15 active cases in Mercer County.

“They were all travel related, definitely some of them were Myrtle Beach,” Bragg added.

Bragg said all five people involved in the new cases reported on Wednesday have been placed in quarantine. He said contact tracing has been completed, and all of the individuals identified through contact tracing also have been placed in isolation.

Bragg didn't immediately have an updated tally Wednesday on the number of people who have been identified through contact tracing as a result of the new virus cases. But that data should be available on Thursday, he said.

As of last count on Monday, 37 people in Mercer County who had come into contact with one of the new confirmed COVID-19 patients were in isolation, but that number has likely jumped as well now.

Contact tracing involves locating those individuals who had direct contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient. Due to potential exposure to the virus, those individuals also are required to quarantine for a two-week period.

Bragg said another 42 COVID-19 test results were still pending with the Mercer County Health Department as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Greg Puckett, a member of the Mercer County Commission, said local officials continue to monitor the recommendations of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

"No drastic measures," Puckett said Wednesday. "We are going to monitor what the Department of Health and Human Resources in Charleston says. I'm sure the governor keeps seeing spikes in these various counties, and he will keep giving directions and we will try to follow suit."

Puckett said those area residents who have recently traveled to Myrtle Beach, Florida or other hot spot locations should be tested for the virus upon their return home to West Virginia.

"People need to understand that we aren't in a second wave. We are still in the first wave," Puckett said. "This is still something that is ongoing."

Only one person in Mercer County has been hospitalized to date as a result of the virus.

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