WVU in the News: In Southern West Virginia, poor health infrastructure leads to pandemic problems

COVID-19 is straining rural Southern West Virginia’s skeletal healthcare infrastructure.

“We’re watching our neighbors get sick,” said Steve Browning, who heads the Logan County Health Department. “It’s difficult, and ... it’s personal.”

Logan County began September with 493 cases and 30 virus-related deaths, triple the 133 cases and three deaths to start August. With a population of 32,000, the county’s per-capita rate shot past the rolling seven-day average limit of 25 cases per 100,000, pushing Logan into the red, the highest level in the complicated color-coding system state officials use to monitor the virus.

“It happened quick, all at once,” Browning said. “It would have been a large hit for anybody, but for a small county like us, it was an avalanche.”

Browning attributed the increase to outbreaks at Logan Regional Medical Center and a long-term care facility and community spread from people traveling.

It’s not unusual for outbreaks to compound on top of each other. Kanawha County is currently handling outbreaks at five long-term care facilities and a jail and from community spread. But in areas with less robust community health resources, outbreaks like the one in Logan expose gaps in systems already stretched to the breaking point.

“It’s showing us where we’ve failed and what we need to do better, at an unfortunate cost,” said Dr. Anna Allen, an occupational medicine physician and associate professor at the West Virginia University School of Public Health. “With prevention [care] and public health, if it’s doing the job, you don’t know it’s there. You don’t realize you’re standing on the ground until it shakes. Right now, it’s shaking a bit more for some more than others.”

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CONTACT: Nikky Luna, Director of Marketing and Communications
School of Public Health
304-293-1699; nikky.luna@hsc.wvu.edu