County health departments feeling the strain of COVID-19

Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 5:53 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - For most people, a COVID-19 test means pulling up to a testing site and getting swabbed.

For health departments, that’s just the beginning of their work.

“We have to have plenty of people doing the tests getting information out to people, making sure that traffic is controlled,” said Dr. Sherri Young Health, officer with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

Counties like Kanawha and Cabell say the demand is high, but they have the staff to manage. Smaller counties have smaller departments, and officials say keeping up hasn’t been easy.

“After a while, it takes its toll on staff,” said Lolita Kirk, an administrator at the Putnam County Health Department.

Saturday marks Putnam’s 20th straight day of testing, which equates to 1,400 tests per week. With just five full-time employees working seven days a week, she’s looking to hire more staff.

Mingo County is also feeling the strain with only five employees.

“I’ve had once nurse already spend two days in the hospital from stress,” said Keith Blankenship, an administrator with the Mingo County Health Department. “I haven’t had a serious day off since August”.

The colder weather on the way adds another layer of concern because testing is usually held outside. Officials in both counties are looking for alternatives.

“We are talking to community partners trying to find locations where maybe it’s a large open area,” Kirk said. “We can go in and bring in 20 people at a time, and keep them socially distant and do testing that way.”

Blankenship says he‘s looking to the volunteer fire departments for testing sites so staff members can test outside and go in the garage to warm up.

Boone County officials say they test on average 20 people a day. They usually only test twice a week but say they’ll up the number of sites when it’s necessary.

The Braxton County Health Department mostly handles contact tracing and education on the virus. Actual testing is handled by a private company. That decision was made by an administrator months ago.

WSAZ found that every county has its own struggles. Some may be more serious than others.

Administrators in Putnam and Mingo counties say despite their struggles, testing will continue.

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