Coronavirus

Columbiana County Commissioners Declare Emergency

LISBON, Ohio — With four confirmed cases of COVID-19 among their constituency, Columbiana County Commissioners declared a state of emergency in the county Wednesday, emphasizing that is no reason for panic.

The declaration noted that COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus, creates not only the danger of serious illness among residents, but also presents serious financial concerns for business and could cause private and public resources earmarked for alleviating the virus to be exceeded.

Noting that Gov. Mike DeWine instituted a similar emergency declaration earlier this month, commissioners said the county must engage in all efforts to combat the effects of the virus and to keep it from spreading.

Commissioner Mike Halleck said he believed 18 other Ohio counties have done the same.

“It gives us somewhat of a safeguard and the ability to receive funds as a result of this crisis,” he said. “We’ve had several conversations in the last week or two and have been assured by our legal minds in Columbus it’s not necessary, just a safeguard. This is not to induce panic.”

The weekly meeting was live-streamed, allowing the public to attend while maintaining the safe distances outlined in this week’s orders set down by the governor, with Commissioner Jim Hoppel attending via teleconference.

The county health department is monitoring the situation on a daily basis. Said Health Commissioner Wes Vins, also participating via telephone, “Its a very serious situation that we anticipate will continue to evolve.”

Laura Fauss, public information officer for the health department, said following the meeting the fourth positive case of COVID-19 in the county was reported late Tuesday following the governor’s daily briefing at 2 p.m.

Fauss was uncertain Wednesday if the four people diagnosed are hospitalized or being treated at home, saying the department’s nursing office was handling that aspect of the situation. Under HIPAA laws, Fauss said she wasn’t certain if that information can be shared, even if known.

Asked why the health department has not identified the communities in which the four individuals live, Fauss said the reason is two-fold.

First, because the county is small and by naming a particular community in which a positive victim lives, it is likely their identity would easily be ascertained by residents of that community. 

Secondly, if a victim is identified as living in one part of the county, those living elsewhere may believe their risk is less and take fewer precautions.

With DeWine’s stay-at-home order taking effect Monday night, only essential businesses may continue to operate and questions have arisen over which businesses should be open.

DeWine emphasized those with concerns about a possible violation should contact their local health department, and Columbiana County residents have taken that advice to heart.

“We’re getting a lot of complaints. We’re taking them by phone or email, and we’re following them as best we can,” Fauss said. “We haven’t gone out and closed anybody. We’re hoping to get people to comply at this time.”

She said businesses are being reminded to take precautions to ensure the safety of their customers and employees.

“You are in violation if you do not provide a safe environment for your employees under the state order. Every employer is going to have to comply with those standards even once everyone goes back to work,” Fauss said. “If a customer or an employee believes there is a violation, [they should] call the health department or law enforcement and report it.”

In a March 23 email to realtor associations, Kevin Summerville, a sanitarian with the health department, wrote that while real estate activities are listed under essential services in the stay-at-home order, concerns have been raised about holding open houses.

“Since open houses can lead to many people congregating and occupying an area in close quarters and [can] encourage people to leave their home, we find such activities to be contradictory to the governor’s order. We are requesting no open houses be held while [the order] is in place,” Summerville wrote. 

Using common sense regarding what is and is not an essential business has become a common mantra among state, county and local officials.

“If you don’t qualify, consider yourself closed,” said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted during a briefing this week. “We have to comply with the safe workplace components of the order. The virus only spreads when we spread it through our behaviors.” 

During the meeting, commissioners took action on requests by the Department of Jobs and Family Services that will allow some financial assistance to those who have been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The resolutions, presented by director Rachel Ketterman, called for a one-time payment of no more than $350 to families involved in the Kinship Caregiver Program to assist in self-quarantine and social distancing efforts. 

Those in the Kinship Caregiver Program can also receive up to $1,000 per family for rent or mortgage assistance with another of the resolutions passed by commissioners. 

The program is one in which temporary or permanent care is given by an adult to a child whose parents are unable or unwilling to provide such care.

The third resolution provided for $300 per family for self-quarantine and social distancing efforts. Ketterman said after the meeting the first two resolutions provide funding for those involved with the Job and Family Services’ Public Children Services Agency. Meanwhile, the third resolution makes funding available for anyone who has lost employment due to the COVID-19 virus and who has a child under 18 in the household. 

Ketterman did not have a figure for how much money is available, which she said fluctuates daily, but said the state is trying to provide more funding.

“My worry is it’s going to go fast. But, we will help as many as we can,” she said.

Pictured: Normally congested throughout the day, state Route 170 in Calcutta was nearly empty during the noon lunch hour the day on which Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay at home order went into effect as non-essential businesses closed.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.