Alleghany County has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases over the past week.

Several cases have been reported at a Clifton Forge long-term care facility and a school was closed Tuesday after a staff member tested positive for the virus.

The cumulative case count for Alleghany County stood at 127 on Tuesday, up  37 from the 90 reported a week earlier. Cumulative cases reflect the total number since the onset of the pandemic in March.

In Clifton Forge, numerous confirmed cases have been reported at The Woodlands Health and Rehab Center. The cases involve employees and residents of the facility.

Woodlands officials would not disclose the number of cases on Tuesday. Jennifer Eddy, a spokeswoman for The Woodlands, said the outbreak began on Oct. 26.

Eddy, a chief marketing strategist with Eddy Alexander in Roanoke, said   The Woodlands is complying with protocols established  by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Department of Health.

A smaller number of COVID-19 cases were reported at Alleghany Health and Rehabilitation, which is another long-term care facility in Clifton Forge. 

Alleghany County is part of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts. In the districts, 29 outbreaks were reported on Tuesday — 12 were in  long-term care facilities.

“There are very few long-term care facilities left in our region ... that haven’t had at least one outbreak,” Dr. Molly O’Dell, director of  communicable disease control for the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, said Tuesday.

O’Dell and Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director of the health districts, participated in a Tuesday morning  briefing with the news media. 

Morrow said  78 residents — up from 51 last week — are now in Roanoke area hospitals, and with case counts and deaths rising, the hospitals are nearing 90 percent capacity in the region.

Cumulative case counts are also rising in Covington  and Bath County. Covington on Tuesday was reporting 33 cumulative cases and Bath County, 24.

Sixty COVID-related deaths have been reported in the Roanoke-Alleghany region. Four of the deaths have involved Alleghany County residents. 

Health officials were reporting 340 active cases in the two health districts on Tuesday. Sixty-three of the cases had been reported since Monday. 

Clifton Middle School Closed    

Clifton Middle School will be closed through Nov. 6 as a result of  an employee testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

The school was closed Tuesday to allow the Virginia Department of Health  to conduct contact tracing to determine the level of exposure.

School officials made the decision Tuesday afternoon to keep the school closed through Nov. 6 after consulting with health officials.    

“As a result of the contact tracing practices, Clifton Middle School met the threshold of a 20 percent  exposure rate in the building; therefore, it is the Virginia Department of Health’s recommendation and best practice that the Clifton Middle School building remain predominantly vacant until Monday, Nov. 9,” Sherman Callahan, acting superintendent for Alleghany County Public Schools, said Tuesday afternoon.

All instruction will be online during the closure. When students return on Nov. 9, the school will resume a hybrid mode of instruction with students taking classes online and in person on certain days of the week.

“Be assured that Alleghany County Public Schools continues to monitor and process a great deal of information as it pertains to COVID-19 in order to ensure the safety of all students, faculty, and staff and know that safety is paramount to Alleghany County Public Schools,” Callahan said. 

Courthouse Closed 

Concern over possible COVID-19 exposure also forced the Alleghany County Courthouse in Covington to be closed on Tuesday. The facility was closed under court order. It will remain closed through Friday and individuals with pending cases are being advised  to call the circuit court clerk’s office and the district court clerk’s office on Monday.

Voter Registration/Social Services

The Alleghany County Voter Registration office and the Department of Social Services were shut down Wednesday morning following a confirmed COVID-19 case in the registrar’s office.

Social services employees continue to work remotely to assist clients. The social services office, as well as the registrar’s office, will be closed until Monday. Deep cleaning was being conducted in the offices.   

Plans were being discussed Wednesday to establish a temporary voter location for county residents at the Jeter-Watson Center in Covington.

City and county officials were in discussions with the Virginia Board of Elections Wednesday afternoon.

Early in-person voting in Virginia ends Saturday.     

‘Same Old Thing’ 

“It’s the same old thing,” said O’Dell in explaining the rising case numbers in the Alleghany Highlands.

“It’s family members getting exposed. Somebody will get it from a family member, and then, that person takes it into their workplace, or some sort of social situation. And then another person takes it to another family,” O’Dell said.

“The reason these cases are happening is that people are not adhering to the prevention recommendations and they aren’t having a  conversation with each other before they connect at work or in social situations,” she said.

Morrow, citing a recent incident where 15 members of a family became COVID positive, said families and groups must have serious conversations about the risks involved in gathering together.

“What seems to be driving a lot of the current activity is small gatherings of people,” she said.

Morrow said her family will not be gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Moreover, her college-aged children will not be coming home for the holidays.

“Obviously, this was an incredibly difficult decision,” Morrow said. “We have to do things differently this year. The status-quo of trick-or-treating. The status-quo of Thanksgiving. We can’t afford to do the status-quo today.”

Contact Tracing Difficulties

As case counts continue to rise, health officials are having a harder time contacting people who have been exposed. 

Morrow said contact tracers try three times to phone someone who is exposed before sending them a letter. They are finding more often that people won’t answer or return their calls, and that they are less willing to quarantine.

“They are having an increasingly difficult time trying to get to everybody in a timely manner. Some of our team members have a lot of people they are trying to contact, so we really want to appeal to the public: If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, please start telling your close contacts that they’ve been exposed,” she said.

Getting The Word Out

Morrow and O’Dell conduct weekly media briefings in an effort to educate the public about the seriousness of COVID-19.

Their recent discussion led to the development  of a jingle that O’Dell hopes will be spread widely. 

The jingle, sung by a virtual Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir, ends with the words, “Social distance, wash your hands and wear a mask.”

The jingle can be viewed in video form at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCW3m8NYS0g. It is also available for downloading in MP3 format.