ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Continuing local response to the COVID-19 pandemic topped the Belmont County Board of Health’s agenda Monday.

The pandemic is now at its peak in Ohio, they said, with surges of cases expected nationwide.

There were more than 40 positive cases in the county last week, with nine recoveries. Deputy Director Robert Sproul reported an increase to 54 positive cases in Belmont County on Monday, with seven people currently hospitalized and two deaths related to the virus.

Sproul said the hospitalized people are in their 70s and 80s. The two deaths were a man in his 90s and a woman in her 80s.

He said of the 54 cases, 13 people have recovered so far.

"We have a few that are due to come out very soon," Sproul said. "The office has been very busy."

The health department is operating with half its staff, with nine employees on site at a time and some able to take phone calls and do limited work from home.

Sproul said the financial report is delayed until July and other business is also on hold. The department is keeping up with the newest information from the governor’s office.

There is no indication that a surge in cases will demand more beds than are locally available, he said.

Sproul said Belmont County’s patients are being taken to Wheeling Hospital and WVU Medicine Barnesville Hospital and, should the caseload become excessive, the plan is to transfer patients to a facility being set up in a Columbus convention center.

"The National Guard’s setting up a facility there to house COVID-19 patients," he said.

The department also qualified for $60,576 in federal coronavirus funding. Sproul said it would be used for supplies and for overtime pay as staff continue to trace contacts of confirmed patients.

"It’s to help us financially get through this pandemic," he said.

Linda Mehl, director of nursing and Women Infants and Children services, reported limiting people to visits by appointment only.

"They are getting information over the phone the day before. Financial and physical and previous weight and height so they don’t have to bring the children in. WIC has waived the physical presence of the kids. They are maintaining services. It’s just a quick visit to load the food card," she said.

"Because of the kids, a parent has to bring them and sometimes they’ve got more than one child and there’s no way really to spread them out in the waiting room. It’s a walk-in clinic primarily," she said. "We don’t have as many people calling in. The ones that do … for back-to-school shots, we’re putting it off a little bit until things start opening up again."

They are also preparing to utilize teleconferences for reproductive health appointments.

In other matters, Jim King was reappointed for a five-year term on the board and appointed president of the board. Joel Braido was appointed president pro tem.

The board approved a temporary order through June 8 to allow the department to continue operations should it become necessary to cancel the May board meeting.

The next meeting is set for noon May 11 at the board office along Ohio 331 west of St. Clairsville.

(Editor’s Note: This story was reprinted thanks to The Times Leader.)