As Virus Cases Increase, DeWine Warns Valley ‘to Buckle Down’

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Gov. Mike DeWine touched down at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport Friday morning, one of four stops he made across the state in communities where cases of COVID-19 have risen.

On Thursday Mahoning and Trumbull counties moved into the Red level on Ohio’s coronavirus rating system, the second highest level in the state’s Public Health Advisory System.

Moving the two counties into the higher level was based on increases in four indicators over a 14-day period: having more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents; new cases trending higher; new case increases not occurring in congregate settings; and sustained increases in emergency department visits for COVID-like symptoms.

Mahoning County had 93 cases per 100,000 residents, and Trumbull County reports 54.1 cases per 100,000, DeWine reported. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention defines 100 cases per 100,000 as high incidence.

Residents of the two counties have done well so far but the rise to Red level is “a warning sign that things are starting to go in the wrong direction,” the governor said.

In the Mahoning Valley, as elsewhere in the state, people are “letting down their guard” and getting lax about wearing masks, observing social distancing and other measures to safeguard against the spread of the virus.

“We’ve got to buckle down. We’ve got to focus. We’ve got to do what we have to do,” he emphasized. The goal is to keep the economy, schools and colleges open and to allow people to go on with their lives, but the only way that is going to happen is for people to comply with the recommendations for preventing the spread of the virus.

Statewide, the daily average number of cases over he past 10 days is around 1,500 per day, up from 1,000 cases daily two weeks ago. Also concerning is a gradual rise in the ages of those infected. In July, just over half of the cases were among people 30 or younger. That average age is edging up, a concern because of health dangers presented by the virus increase with age.

“The goal is to get through this. We will get through this,” he said. “If we could get 85% of the people in this state to wear masks every time they were out, where they couldn’t social distance, we would knock this thing down,” he predicted.

State Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-32 Brookfield, said he is concerned that the increase in cases are no longer centered in congregate settings but are among the general public. He typically sees people wearing masks when they are out and about, but tend to let their guard down in settings such as restaurants.

State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-33 Salem, whose family owns the Rulli Bros. grocery stores, said he sees between 30,000 and 50,000 people each week, and customers mostly comply with mask and social distancing requirements. He acknowledged that people tend to let their guard down in environments such as social gatherings, neighborhood barbecues or sporting events.

The governor said the state would announce plans next week to release “a significant amount of money” to help people who have been struggling financially to stay in their homes as well as a grant program to assist small businesses, which similarly have been impacted by the pandemic.

The governor said he is working with the General Assembly on the total amount that would be available, but the grants would be around $10,000 to $20,000. They likely would be available to businesses of 25 or fewer employees, DeWine said.

“Some of them have been hit very, very hard,” DeWine said.

The governor is hopeful that there might be more federal stimulus dollars available with passage of a new coronavirus relief package, but acknowledged that likely would not come until after the Nov. 3 election.

Though not involved in the discussions about the state small business grants, Rulli has heard about them and said those talks need to take place.

“I know of four restaurants that are already out of business,” he said. Several other small business owners are worried because they thought the pandemic would be over by now, he said.

“That is something I would be very interested in working with the governor on,” O’Brien said. While major chains are doing well, “he mom and pop places” that sustain the local economy are struggling, including from having to invest in counter shields and personal protective equipment.

“The governor is 100% right to help them out,” he said. “They have been disproportionately affected.”

Lepore-Hagan said she is anxious to go back into session and work on legislation to assist Ohioans hurt by the pandemic through housing and business assistance.

“It sounds like the investment that we need,” she said.

Pictured at top: Gov. Mike DeWine addresses reporters Friday morning at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.