By Cassady Rosenblum
The Tucker County Commission met at the Tucker County Courthouse with County Commissioner Lowell Moore presiding. A discussion of COVID-19 numbers, Section 8 rental assistance, and ambulance fees dominated the agenda. Sherry Simmons also addressed the County Commission to thank the 9/11 Center and EMS teams for saving her husband’s life on August 25th when a truck struck him while he was on his lawnmower.
Regarding COVID-19, Kevin White, Director Tucker County Homeland Security Emergency Management reported Tucker County is in the worst state it’s been in since the pandemic began 19 months ago. “West Virginia unfortunately is leading the nation in a bad number now,” White told the commission, noting that COVID-19 cases are growing in the state at a rate of “2.69% per day per week. That is the highest per 100,000 in the nation,” noted White. “Next is North Dakota and they’re at 1.68%. We’re not doing a good job all of a sudden.”
White’s remarks came as Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s go-to authority on COVID-19 matters, noted that it will be another week or two before the current surge of new cases peak, and that hospitalizations and deaths will continue to increase for some time after that. Marsh likened the situation to a forest fire, and noted the only way to create firewalls in the future is vaccination. Based on the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia ranks 47th in the country with only 40% of the population fully vaccinated. As of Wednesday, September 8th, 3,169 West Virginians have died of COVID-19, and nearly 5,000 are expected to die by December. According to James Hoyer, director of the state interagency task force, out of the 813 West Virginians hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, September 8 83% are unvaccinated.
“We are trying to keep our schools open,” continued White. “The kids really need to be in school.” He encouraged people to get vaccinated and wear their masks, and if people don’t take those steps, at least get tested. “Please go get tested,” he implored. “It’s probably not sinuses if you’re not feeling well.”
Sherry Simmons, Tucker County Clerk, also took the opportunity to address the commission, thanking them and “my entire Tucker County family, which is all of Tucker County,” for saving the life of her husband, Bill Simmons, who was involved in a brutal accident August 25. “When a lawnmower meets a truck, we don’t expect the outcome what it is today,” Simmons said. Simmons was in her house when she heard what she thought was a vehicle strike a deer. When she got to the picture window, said Simmons, “I saw it was Bill in the road. So I took off running but Slayter beat me to him. And the only thing I could hear in my head was Slayter yelling ‘I have no pulse, I have no pulse!’”
Simmons thanked the 9/11 dispatchers Slayter Liller, Adam Arbogast, and Janet Canon, who she said “worked like a machine” to perform CPR on her husband, and get him to Morgantown. “Heroes live here. They work here,” Simmons said, noting that at Ruby Memorial Hospital, the trauma team took her aside and said that if her husband had not received the care on the ground he did, he would not be alive today. “We are so blessed and thankful to live here,” Simmons said.
She also reflected on her experience at Ruby Memorial. “People say they’re afraid of taking the shot, or it’s God’s will, you know, and He’ll take care of me. For ten days I sat in a trauma unit and I watched God’s work,” said Simmons. “I had a direct view of the nurse’s station from Bill’s room. They did not sit down. They ran. The codes would go off, the whole staff would run. These women and men…are the most amazing people I’ve seen in my life,” she said, remarking that God must be helping healthcare workers perform such grueling work.
Last, Lois Arbogast addressed the commission about the $50 dollar ambulance fee due September 1. Arbogast said she was surprised the courtroom wasn’t more packed, because while she has paid her fee “religiously” the last several years, she plans to not out of protest this year for two reasons: one, that too many erroneous fees are being sent out, and two, that too many residents are not paying the fees they do owe, and are thus free-loading off of people like her.
Arbogast wanted to know when the county commission plans to collect fees from the people who have refused to pay what they owe in the past. Commissioner Moore answered that the county tried to do so this year, but was disrupted due to many courthouse offices closing due to COVID-19. However, he agreed with Arbogast that the ambulance fees are a real issue. Imagine what would have happened to Simmons’ husband if no residents ever paid their fees? he asked rhetorically. Arbogast allowed that while the pandemic may have upset things this year, “What about 2017, or 2018, or 2019?”
“People are riding on my coattails,” Arbogast said. “And people are getting irate.”