Acknowledging the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic while at the same time stressing the reality behind Resolution No. 20-60, the Highland County Board of Commissioners passed the resolution declaring a state of emergency in the county at itsWednesday meeting.
Highland County Emergency Management Agency Director David Bushelman was quick to point out the measure was “a formality that opens up avenues for supplies and reimbursements later on down the road,” while at the same time recognizing that the commissioners were taking the situation seriously.
Commissioner Gary Abernathy said while it was important to institute the emergency declaration, “there is no more an emergency today than there was on Monday.”
Bushelman said state of emergency declarations were more for the benefit of jurisdictions like Highland County to go through the procurement process, and loosens restrictions such as minority buying and bidding mandates.
“With Highland County, it’s more of a formality to get us on record with the state EMA,” Bushelman said. “In working with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), this will hopefully put us in line for some reimbursements for federal money on down the line.”
He stressed that Wednesday’s emergency declaration doesn’t change anything for the general public since “it’s more of a formality and we don’t want to induce panic.”
While admitting people’s concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic were rightly placed, Abernathy put into perspective that the public had a better chance of contracting influenza during the current flu season.
“So far this year, we’ve had between 22,000 and 50,000 flu deaths,” he said. “In Highland County, we’ve had 36 hospitalizations for the flu so far.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, state health officials confirmed 88 cases of coronovirus in Ohio.
Bushelman said that test results of a suspected COVID-19 case of a McClain High School hadn’t come back yet.
He indicated that when the test results are complete, his office will issue a news release to remain in compliance with HIPAA laws governing the release of personal medical information.
The only information available during Saturday’s press conference was that the person was a male student at McClain High School in grades 9-12.
Commission president Jeff Duncan said that Monday they had a meeting with various county department heads to provide guidance during the pandemic, and the feeling among the commissioners was that as department heads, they knew more about their own day-to-day operations, and that county business decisions would be best left up to them.
“Here in this office, we’ve shut things down to the point where we’re having people drop stuff off in the lobby,” he said. “But, if you need to speak with us, we’ll talk to you, but we’re just taking precautions like everyone else.”
His recommendation was that if the public had county business to attend to, to call ahead and see if it can be taken care of over the phone or by email.
Duncan said that he and Lt. Branden Jackman, public information officer for Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District, would be on a conference call with county and village elected officials later Wednesday morning, and that Health Commissioner Jared Warner and Jackman would be teleconferencing with faith-based organizations to provide guidance for area churches and pantries.
Bushelman noted that each day at 8 a.m., an executive meeting of the Highland County Emergency Operations Center is held, which includes representatives of Highland District Hospital and the Highland County Sheriff’s Office, in addition to commission president Duncan.
A bit of good news was shared during Wednesday’s meeting to dispel all of the current uneasiness, with Duncan saying that sales tax receipts for the county continued their steady rise, with a $67,401 increase from the same time one year ago, with a total increase since the first of the year of nearly $106,000.
“That’s good news, but unfortunately, next month’s figures might not be as good, but we’re off to a good start” he said.
Commissioner Terry Britton emphasized the need for fiscal restraint, indicating the pandemic would have “a huge impact on the financial side of business, including ours.”
He also said that clerk Mary Remsing was in the process of contacting groups to inform them that their scheduled meetings in the administration building would be cancelled until further notice.
In other matters Wednesday, commissioners executed a request for approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for the return of grant funding not needed at the Highland County Airport, to free that funding for use by other airports.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.