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Mon County Health Department busier than ever during outbreak

Lee Smith is a busy man these days.

As Monongalia County’s chief medical officer and director of the Monongalia County Health Department, Smith is leading the county’s efforts to minimize the spread and impact of COVID-19.

Projections indicate West Virginia’s infection rate will peak somewhere around April 15, meaning things aren’t likely to slow down for Smith and company anytime soon.

Fortunately, he explained, he has a lot of backup.

“We are blessed to have a talented and devoted group of public health employees who traditionally do not work in the limelight and did not take this employment for its lucrative pay,” Smith said, explaining some members of the MCHD staff have been working seven days a week for weeks on end.

“But this is what we signed up for and this is our time to step up and do our jobs as best we can,” Smith said.

MCHD Public Information Officer MaryWade Triplett said while most of the department’s efforts have been shifted to focus on various aspects of the viral pandemic, public health services like restaurant inspections continue.

“Many employees whose jobs got less busy are helping out in other departments,” she said, whether that be recording meeting minutes for the various COVID-19 related planning sessions, taking MCHD employee temperatures in the morning, or simply calling to check in on the quarantined.

Recently, she said, MCHD staff put out a container to collect homemade face masks — details for which can be found on the department’s Facebook page or by contacting Wade at

Smith said the MCHD has made strides in recent years to shake the image of “a sleepy little health department,” and he believes it’s taken its rightful place as an equal county partner ready to respond to any outbreak.

With COVID-19, he said the stakes are particularly high due to the fact that West Virginia has an older population with a high percentage of citizens dealing with health issues like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

“We in public health are extremely worried that if coronavirus becomes widespread at the local level it could devastate many people, medical institutions and responding agencies,” Smith said, imploring the public to heed the stay-at-home order currently in place.

“I am amazed on a daily basis at the amount of traffic that remains on our streets and highways and wonder if all these people are truly essential personnel,” he said, adding “How we act today will have an enormous impact in whether this virus continues to spread in our state and community.”

While many in the community have reached out to support the MCHD, first responders and health care workers, Smith said there are others who are fostering a stigma out of “fear or ignorance or both.”

“It confuses me that some people treat poorly those individuals who may be called upon to take care of them or their family,” he said. “We have seen these bad actors treating our EMS, nursing home and hospital staff as second-class citizens.”

Smith said this experience has ultimately affirmed his belief that the various administrators and agencies in Monongalia County are well adapted at working closely together.

Jimmy Smith, director of the Monongalia County Office of Emergency Manangement, echoed those sentiments and noted that the MCHD should be commended for its efforts in response to COVID-19.

“I have to point out Doc Smith and the health department. The job that he has done and his staff. I think we in Mon County are one of the most fortunate counties, not only in the state but in the country, to have a gentleman like this leading us through this. He has been nonstop,” Jimmy Smith recently told the Monongalia

County Commission. “I just really want to point out the exceptional job he and his staff are doing.”

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