Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner appeared before the board of commissioners Wednesday to present them with what he called a “situational report” concerning local and state preparedness efforts related to the coronavirus.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s office announced on Monday Ohio’s first confirmed cases of the virus that has sickened people around the globe, with three people from Cuyahoga County testing positive.
All three, a husband and wife who were on a Nile cruise, and a man who attended the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, D.C., are in their mid-50s.
“We want to start some discussions locally and prepare people moving forward as to what it might look like if COVID-19 turns up here in the community,” Warner said. “We had a lot of meetings on the agenda and not surprisingly, things have started to escalate.”
Warner thanked Highland County Emergency Management Agency Director David Bushelman for his leadership in the recent meetings held with first responders and area fire departments to insure they know how to respond and protect themselves in the event of what he called a “community case” in the county.
Warner defined a community case as a person who comes down with the virus, but had no travel history and no known exposure. He said from a public health point of view, those are the most concerning since “they just popped up out of nowhere and that’s what we’re watching out for right now, that first community case.”
“We have not had any of those cases here in Ohio,” he said. “We have three confirmed cases up north and all of them are related to travel, and 15 pending tests in the state labs along with about 255 people being monitored in the public health system.”
Local COVID-19 response included establishment of a health department Incident Command System earlier in March, in addition to meeting with the emergency preparedness and medical staff of Highland District Hospital, area firefighters and first responders. Warner said similar meetings were scheduled for Wednesday afternoon and evening with area health care providers and also with Highland County township trustees.
“Next week, we’ll have some meetings with our community partners,” he said. “That will concern those in our nursing home facilities and the schools, places where we have large numbers of people together for an extended period of time.”
He said his office was in the process of scheduling meetings with churches throughout the county as well.
Slowing down what he termed as the potential for “community spread” is one of the health department goals, emphasizing such practices as social distancing and promoting healthy habits like frequent hand washing/sanitizing, not touching the face, and covering the cough.
Commission President Jeff Duncan said that the current concerns regarding the coronavirus show the need of what he called an “active and vibrant health department.”
“There is a levy on the ballot next week for the health department,” Duncan said, “and unfortunately, things like this really bring it to light and really show why we need a health department — it’s good for the county and good for the individuals who make up our county.”
Commenting on the Ohio primary election scheduled for Tuesday, March 17, Warner said his office will be supplying the board of elections with necessary health precautions such as providing hand sanitizers for voters and protective masks at each of the voting locations, and that poll workers will periodically wipe down the voting machines.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as a fever and cough.
For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. But the vast majority of people recover from the virus, as has already happened with about three-quarters of those infected in China.
In other business from the commissioners meeting, Highland County Community Action Organization Housing Director Mark Current discussed grant funding for the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), which provides funding to local governments to improve and provide affordable housing for low and moderate income individuals.
He said the program gives assistance for rehabilitating or repairing residences, and was seeking permission from commissioners to apply for grant funding, noting that the current grant runs through the end of the year.
“The goal of the current grant is 10 rehabs and 14 repairs,” Current said. “Right now, we’re at seven rehabs completed, with three of those in the city of Hillsboro, and 12 repairs, and we’ve always exceeding our goals and more than likely we will again this year.”
It was moved and approved by the commissioners to grant permission to the agency to apply for grant funding.
A proclamation was issued declaring March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and though Highland County Board of Developmental Disabilities Coordinator Nathan Boatman described plans to promote awareness, it was HighCo employee Kenneth Elliot that spoke volumes about the value of the program as he talked about his job duties.
“I do all kinds of different things at work, and I’m real pleased with the job that I got,” he said. “I’m 61 years old and I’m really happy with the job I do.”
In other business Wednesday, six resolutions met with commissioners’ approval, in addition to one contract with the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office to share housing for inmates.
Authorization was also approved to initiate a projected expenditures form for the Highland Family & Children First Council.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.