The nation’s presidential race was historic, big enough to obscure other voting booth outcomes. So, allow me to highlight a Highland County outcome: public health.
Fifty-four percent of Highland County voters approved Issue 2, renewing the tax levy to support the county health department. This horrific pandemic underlines just how important public health departments are to the health and well-being of our communities. As I write, Ohio closed the day with 4,541 new cases. The 21-day trend has gone from 2,015 new cases per day to 4,541, for an Ohio total of 250,268 cases and 5,517 known deaths.
There are two bulwarks against this contagious virus. One is our personal determination to social distance and wear masks, and the other is our public health system which provides critical information, a logistical support structure, and ensures quality care. When the outcome of the Issue 2 vote was realized, Highland County Commissioner Jeff Duncan said, “I think the citizens of Highland County realized how important the health department is for us in the county.”
The pandemic has laid bare some of the weaknesses in the nation’s public health care infrastructure. Some of these vulnerabilities include an incompletely integrated and coordinated federal to state logistical delivery system, lab-testing capacities, “testing deserts,” uneven supply chains of personal protective equipment, insufficient supplies of reagents for testing, and ineffective contact tracing strategies. These among other problems have all hampered our nation’s ability to respond to this attack by the coronavirus. Yet separate from the coronavirus challenges, public health departments across the country are providers of other essential services. Their missions also include ensuring quality oversight of health care facilities and regulatory health-related issues like ensuring the safety of our air, water, soil and food. And lest we forget, our public health institutions are on the front lines of our battles with drug addiction.
One thing everyone can agree upon now is that we can’t solve the economic problems that small businesses are struggling with until we can get control of, or neutralize, this virus. The need for our public health departments to remain healthy is clear. The COVID-19 crisis isn’t over and other epidemics in a globalized world will always be a threat. The recent discovery of coronavirus mutations in animals in Denmark is just another reminder of these potential threats.
In Highland County, with a surging of COVID-19 and the influenza season on the way, we face the prospect of a “twindemic,” and the potential of even higher death rates. The county is in a code “red” status and as reported in this paper, health commissioner Warner has said that we need to get the infection rates to drop from the 380-400 rate per 100,000 to under 100 to drop out of red status.
Fortunately, our public health department is leaning in. It recently set up free COVID-19 testing at the fairgrounds, and a drive-through flu-shot clinic for county employees at the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District station. Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner has also announced that on Nov. 24, there will be a drive-through flu-shot clinic for the public. As positive cases of the virus are on the uptick, these drive-through events make all kinds of situational sense. For elderly citizens who need to avoid public venues and who may not be able to drive themselves, these drive-through clinics are a godsend. Further, the Highland County Health Department is taking seriously systematic contact-tracing regimes.
The bottom line is this, in the words of Commissioner Warner, “We just encourage people to wear your face coverings; keep your distance socially; if you’re sick, stay home; watch yourself for symptoms; and just use some common sense… contact tracing is the health department’s method of working to find that balance between opening things up and still being able to stop any of those major, serious disease spikes from occurring,”
So, kudos to Highland County voters for approving funding support for the Highland County Health Department, and for Warner’s staff’s work in this unprecedented health situation.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.