Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner told nearly 75 viewers Thursday on a Facebook Live session that the total number of COVID-19 cases had risen to 13 with an additional three people likely having the virus.
Eleven patients had made a full recovery, leaving two hospitalized and one deceased, Warner said, with three currently sick and an additional 10 being monitored for symptoms. He stressed that at present there were no cases in area nursing homes and his office was working hard to insure that number remained at zero.
Warner was joined on the session by Highland County Emergency Operations Center Public Information Officer Branden Jackman, who said that despite the reopening of restaurants to outdoor dining being scheduled for Friday, the weather may not cooperate.
He added that with the Friday reopenings, about 93 percent of the state’s economy would be back in operation.
“So we’ve got restaurants opening up, and we also have barber shops, salons, tattoo parlors, body piercing and massage therapy, a whole list of services that are opening up,” Warner said.
He said the rules for the Friday business openings were similar in scope to what had already been in place for previous openings — social distancing, cleaning surfaces such as tables and chairs, wearing masks, and in general focusing on what he called “common sense things we can do to slow down the spread of COVID-19.”
“The next big date will be May 21, and that’ll be indoor dining,” Jackman said. “And rather than going with 50 percent of the fire capacity, they’re looking at barriers in place between tables, or six-foot distancing between tables, and letting that be the determining factor as to how many people a facility can have at any given time.”
Also discussed on Thursday:
• When will churches be allowed to re-open? Gov. Mike DeWine’s office has repeatedly said that churches were not closed by the state government, but were rather asked to exercise good judgment in keeping people safe. He said that information the health department received from the state recommended opening up the doors for ventilation prior to services, avoiding shaking hands and hugging, employing one person to hold the offering plate rather than passing it around the congregation and other common sense things to prevent disease spread. Jackman said if churches had questions to call the health department for guidance at 937-393-1941.
• Changes in testing protocol. Warner said there will be expansion concerning testing, describing as “still not right where we’d like to be, but it is reaching more people and giving them more access to testing.” He said at present, a person must be symptomatic or in a high risk group such as being 65 or older to be tested.
• Outdoor activities. For the past week a series of work groups have been meeting, looking into how outdoor activities such as swimming pools, outdoor camps and organized sports can be enjoyed safely. In DeWine’s daily briefing held Thursday, he announced that day care centers, day camps and gyms, along with activities ranging from low-impact sports leagues to horse racing to swimming in public pools, will resume on May 31. State campgrounds will open Thursday, May 21, but Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said that water parks and swimming at amusement parks are still off limits, as is gambling at race tracks and casinos, which remain closed. Horse racing will begin Friday, May 22 without spectators.
• Politicizing the pandemic. Jackman was adamant that the current situation “wasn’t a left thing or a right thing” but “a matter of being socially responsible and looking out for your fellow human being.” He pointed out the narrative that was present in both the news and social media had a largely negative component, and took issue with the term “sheeple” that was being used to describe those trying to mitigate the spread of the virus.
• COVID cops? Warner said it was indicated in a recent conference call that some changes were forthcoming concerning public gatherings of no more than 10 people. “All they said on the call was to expect some changes soon, but we don’t know if that means next week or at the end of the month,” Warner said. However, he did say that if the health department received a complaint of a large public gathering, it was bound by law to send someone out to investigate and meet with the party the complaint had been filed against, but that it was a last ditch measure in his opinion. He said that so far, it has not been a problem in Highland County. However, he stressed that the no more than 10 people rule was still in effect statewide.
Jackman cautioned everyone about fact-checking things that had been posted on social media, saying that “there is a lot of bad information out there” dealing with supposed medical issues when wearing a mask to advising people to avoid calling paramedics when there is a medical emergency to prevent accidentally catching the virus.
“The last few weeks there’s been a fear about calling 9-1-1 or going to the emergency room,” Jackman said. “If you’re having any symptoms of a stroke, heart attack, low blood sugar, whatever it may be, please don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1 and we’ll do everything we can to help you.”
Both Jackman and Warner said the next Facebook Live session wwill be at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, May 21.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.