Covering West Virginia’s ongoing battle with COVID-19 is like trying to pitch a tent in loose sand. Just when you think you have it pegged, the sand shifts and the pegs come loose.
Several things have changed since last week’s column about outdoor activities during the coronavirus quarantine.
First and foremost, state-park and private campgrounds are now closed. So are campsites on state-owned wildlife management areas.
Officials initially closed down only the parks’ lodges and cabins, but before long it became clear that campgrounds were filling up with people from coronavirus “hot spot” cities and states.
One can’t blame those folks for trying to escape a potentially deadly disease, and West Virginia seemed like a logical place for them to go. Our infection rate was quite low compared to other states, and the number of confirmed cases seemed infinitesimal when compared to those in New York, New Jersey, Michigan and California.
Three of those states are within a day’s drive of any Mountain State campground, so it’s easy to understand why people headed here. Problem was, however, they failed to self-quarantine after they arrived.
Health officials recommend a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone who moves from a high-risk area to a low-risk area. Out-of-state campers weren’t doing that. Instead, they were treating their exodus as just another camping trip — seeing the sights, visiting stores and gas stations, and interacting with the locals.
Something had to be done, so last week Gov. Jim Justice ordered the campgrounds closed. He also ordered the closure of two heavily trafficked scenic overlooks — the one at Blackwater Falls and the one at Coopers Rock.
The only good news is that the parks’ trails remain open to hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners. Parks officials urge users to maintain the 6-foot minimum spacing health officials recommend for avoiding exposure to virus-containing airborne droplets.
It seems mind-boggling that a disease outbreak would also cause an increase in littering, but apparently the COVID-19 pandemic has. Officials from the state Division of Highways say the amount of littering along highways appears to be on the rise.
This is particularly disturbing because that trash could be virus-contaminated, and could infect workers or volunteers who pick it up.
Gov. Justice and other state officials have touted fishing as a great way to get some fresh air during the quarantine period. While that’s true, an Alabama physician, Dr. Neil Schaffner, says there still are ways anglers can catch the virus.
“Your biggest risk is at the gas pump,” Schaffner, an endocrinologist at the East Alabama Medical Center, told Bassmaster.com. “Perhaps 500 people have touched the [filler nozzle] before you picked it up.”
Schaffner added the next most likely place to contract the virus “might be pulling through a drive-through to get a biscuit on the way to the lake.”
The solution? Gloves.
Schaffner said to wear gloves when possible. If you don’t have surgical gloves, wear regular work gloves, because they at least provide a barrier between your skin and a contaminated surface.
If you don’t have gloves, use a paper towel to hold the gas nozzle. Unwrap that biscuit with a napkin, and try not to touch the packaging.
These are crazy times. Let’s all hope they get better soon.