Highland County Emergency Management Agency Director David Bushelman advised, and the county commissioners concurred Wednesday, to approve an open-ended extension to the COVID-19 emergency declaration originally invoked on March 18.
Both Bushelman and Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner appeared before commissioners Jeff Duncan, Gary Abernathy and Terry Britton to give an update on Highland County’s status in the pandemic.
Granting the extension in no way changed the commissioners’ position as reflected in last week’s protest letter to Gov. Mike DeWine, Abernathy said, adding that “freedom always brings with it risk.”
Duncan, the commission president, agreed with Bushelman’s position that extending the declaration brought the county in line with both state and national protocols on the pandemic, which he said were essentially open-ended as well.
“One of the big things this does is keeps the avenues for potential money open,” Bushelman said. “As long as we are under a state of emergency, right now it hasn’t been a problem, but it could be if this keeps going, as far as funding is concerned.”
He said at the moment the county EMA hasn’t incurred many expenses, but contrasted that with the health department, indicating it had experienced increased expenses brought about by the pandemic.
Another benefit to extending the emergency declaration, Bushelman said, was that it gave him the ongoing power to use county employees, within reason, to help conduct necessary operations within his agency.
He noted personnel from the Soil and Water Conservation District have been “spectacular” in helping to acquire personal protection equipment (PPE) and working to organize the warehouse.
Warner updated the commissioners on the status of COVID-19 in the county, citing that Highland County “had done very well compared to a lot of the state and other surrounding counties.”
“Right now, we stand at 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with three probable,” Warner said. “Nine of those cases have recovered, one is deceased and we have five who are actively sick, but overall we’re in good shape.”
Testing efforts are ramping up in the county, he said, with the state providing 150 test kits of which 50 have been distributed to long-term care facilities to enable them to be pro-active in the event of a suspected case.
“We’re looking at distributing additional kits in the future and maintaining a supply of them at the health department,” Warner said. “That way if we have a local business, or the jail or some other congregant-type facility that has a case, we can jump on it quickly and do testing to identify and isolate them.”
He said his office is also working to enhance contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, so that when lab-confirmed or probable cases are identified, they can be questioned about who they’ve been in contact with and then isolated for later quarantine if necessary.
“This is the way we’re going to be operating into the foreseeable future,” Warner said.
Also Wednesday, commissioners issued a proclamation on behalf of the Area Agency on Aging, recognizing the month of May as Older Americans Month.
The agency also asked the community make time to observe Peace Officers Memorial Day on Friday, May 15, which came into existence when Congress asked President John Kennedy to designate that date as a day of honor for those in law enforcement.
It became a public law in 1994 when President Bill Clinton directed that the U.S. flag be flown at half-mast that day.
Commissioners also recognized the accomplishments of two Highland County students who have achieved officer-ranking in Ohio’s FFA program.
Fairfield’s Paige Teeters will be the incoming state vice president, while Hillsboro’s Joe Helterbrand was named to the state secretary position.
“I think it says something for our school system here in the county, how good they are, when we’ve got two individuals from one county serving as state officers,” Duncan said.
Also approved Wednesday was the 2020 compensation plan and administrative procedures, which were put forth by Highland County Job and Family Services Director Katie Smith in her briefing to commissioners last week.
In other matters, four resolutions and a trio of contracts were approved Wednesday.
Two of the resolutions dealt with budget transfers, while one gave county engineer Chris Fauber the authority to determine a safe speed limit on Bridges Road from Fall Creek to Grimsley Road, and the other awarded Unger Construction for the East Shore Drive lift station project in the amount of $249,347.
The contracts that were accepted for Highland County Community Action Organization’s workforce innovation and opportunities youth activities, the 2019 Highland County Tier I prisoner extradition grant and environmental review of the Community Housing Impact and Preservation Program.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.