After more than 40 young people from a small Ohio community took a trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, their hometown is dealing with at least 19 new cases of the coronavirus. This comes after over a week of no more than two cases day, a local public health official told TODAY.
The trip is a "rite of passage" for graduating seniors in Bellaire, Ohio, according to the superintendent of the school district, Darren Jenkins. In total, 91 young people from their late teens to early 20s went on the beach excursion, which lasted a week. About half were from Belmont County, Ohio, which is located close to the Ohio River and near the borders of West Virginia and Pennsylvania; the rest of the group traveled from nearby towns across the West Virginia border.
The group returned home about 10 days ago. On Monday, there were 14 positive cases among the Ohio residents. By Tuesday, that number had gone up to 17, along with two more who came in contact with the beach-goers, and it's possible cases will continue to rise. None of the sick students have been hospitalized.
Due to the new outbreak, Bellaire schools have suspended summer programs, from athletics to band activities, Jenkins said, adding that the school district was not involved in organizing the trip.
So far, the bulk of the positive test results have been in symptomatic patients, the deputy health commissioner for Belmont County, Robert Sproul, told TODAY. The county is conducting contract- tracing and encouraging all students on the trip to get tested, as well as their families. In addition, the county is asking all students on the trip to quarantine for 14 days.
"This is a continually evolving situation, to be honest," Sproul said. "Other students (getting) tested ... may be where we see some of the asymptomatic cases."
Because there are only 1,300 kids in kindergarten through 12th grade in the Bellaire school system, Jenkins told TODAY that the "number" of new cases "is dramatic for us."
"We're a small community, so you can imagine what that is doing to the community as a whole," he explained. "There's a lot of anxiety going on."
Jenkins added that he believes this has been a learning experience for young people in the area.
"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."