ROMNEY  — COVID-19 is spreading throughout the county, with cases coming in “on an almost daily basis,” county health department director Stephanie Shoemaker warned the county commission at Tuesday’s meeting.

The commissioners also heard Hampshire County Arts Council plans to raise the county’s spirits with a new “Winterfest” Christmas tradition to kick off Dec. 4.

Shoemaker reported the health department is now seeing new cases regularly. Hampshire County’s total has reached 116 positive COVID-19 cases, with 6 cases still active and 1 patient hospitalized Monday.

Most of the cases have been found through contact tracing, she said. She also reported many local providers are getting rapid testing machines, which should be helpful.

She announced there will be free community testing, open to everyone, at Hampshire High School this Saturday, from 8 a.m. to noon. Flu shots will also be available.

The health department is working on vaccination plans, including plans for a priority list of people to be vaccinated first. Shoemaker suggested a vaccine could be available soon.

“Everyone is just plain tired of all the negativity” affecting the county lately, said Joanne and Charlie Snead, as they presented plans to raise everyone’s spirits through a Romney Winterfest celebration planned to become a new holiday tradition.

“It is time to make Romney shine for the holidays,” they said, as they presented plans for decorating the exterior of the courthouse with white lights and live greens and erecting a Christmas tree on the corner.

County Commission President Bob Hott said he would pay for the tree out of his own pocket.

The Winterfest tree-lighting ceremony will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4, and businesses are encouraged to decorate with white lights and greens and hold open houses from 5:30-7:30 p.m. that evening.

The Sneads also asked that the courthouse be open that evening to display decorations inside. Asked if he could get his employees to decorate, County Clerk Eric Strite replied “ I couldn’t stop them.”

Winterfest sponsors include the Women’s Club, which normally does the courthouse decorations, along with the arts council, the Town of Romney, Romney Rotary, Refresh Restart Romney, businesses and other individuals.

In other business, county ambulance service director of operations Terry Puffinburger asked for permission to give his employees a raise, and announced the administrative assistant hired to help expedite court cases to collect delinquent ambulance fees would begin work Nov. 1.

Puffinberger noted call volume (averaging 223 a month) had not changed much, but the number of transports done by the county were up — partly because volunteer rescue squads are sometimes already out on a call, he added.

The commission approved purchase of a new medic chase vehicle, with Commissioner Brian Eglinger pointing out that the cost would be paid with ambulance fee revenue, rather than coming out of the county general fund.

Animal shelter director Patsy Weakley received permission to use volunteers to help out at the animal shelter, and to hire a part-time employee.

Strite reported the polls were likely to be busy during early voting and on Election Day, since people seemed to be interested in in-person voting.

The county commission approved a list of poll workers for the Nov. 3 election. Training will be done this Saturday in Capon Bridge and next week in Romney.

Eglinger moved that the county help Parks and Recreation with finishing the new building in Hampshire Park by agreeing to pay invoices for remaining work.

Commissioner Dave Parker asked how much this would cost the county before the motion passed — a question that never received a clear answer.

Eglinger asked that the commission schedule an evening meeting once in a while, and the commissioners agreed to put this on the agenda for their next meeting.

In the discussion it was noted that evening meetings are acceptable, but all meetings must be held in the county seat, and must be on the official meeting schedule, with Strite suggesting such meetings could be included in the new schedule developed in January. 

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