Almost 100 students travelled to South Carolina for a holiday and came back the weekend of June 13, Deputy Health Commissioner of the Belmont County Health Department Robert Sproul told CNN. He added that the trip was not school-sanctioned.
By Tuesday, the department confirmed 17 positive cases, as well as two positive contact cases, meaning people who were exposed to the students on the trip caught the highly contagious respiratory virus.
“We’re worried that our numbers are going to be creeping up,” he said, adding that none of the students have been hospitalized.
The unfortunate news comes after more than a week of no more than two cases per day, a local public health official told Today.
The trip is apparently a “rite of passage” for graduating students in Bellaire, Ohio., superintendent of the school district, Darren Jenkins, said.
Approximately half of the travellers are from Belmont County, Today reports, while the others came from towns across the West Virginia border. Schools in the county have suspended their summer programs in response to the outbreak.
The spike in cases has been dramatic for the county, which only has 1,300 kids in kindergarten through grade 12.
“We’re a small community, so you can imagine what that is doing to the community as a whole,” Jenkins explained. “There’s a lot of anxiety going on.”
“I think quite honestly … we have a situation where young people feel as if they can’t get COVID, only old folks get COVID. I think that there is now an awareness that COVID is an equal opportunity disease.”
Before this unsanctioned graduation trip, Belmont County was under strict quarantine and the entire state had a travel ban. They’d managed to reduce the infection rates to zero, Sproul told CNN.
“We knew they would travel as soon as they could,” he said. “We just hoped they would be responsible with social distancing and wearing masks.”
As of Wednesday morning, Ohio accounted for more than 46,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
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