Government Services Limited but Available During Virus Outbreak

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – County and city officials are taking measures to fulfill government functions and conduct the peoples’ business without the people during the coronavirus outbreak that is gripping the country.

Leaders are grappling with ways to keep public employees safe while making sure vital services like unemployment, Medicaid and utility services remain available to citizens.

“We’re changing how we do business, but we’re still doing business,” said Warren Mayor Doug Franklin.

Trumbull County Commissioners said all public access to the administration building will be closed for face-to-face interactions beginning Wednesday, except for limited seating at the commissioner’s public meeting at 10 a.m. Seating will be spaced and the number of people permitted into the meeting will meet the mass gathering guidelines that have been set by Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health’s orders.

A telephone conference bridge for the public to hear the meeting can be accessed by calling 877 820 7831, with the access code 554234.

Trumbull Commissioner Frank Fuda said operational instructions for building access and operations will be discussed.

The Ohio Department Job and Family Services offices in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties have either routed services to workers who are working remotely or are rotating shifts between working from the office and at home. Departments that handle applications for vital services such as unemployment claims, medical services, food assistance and child support have set up stations or bins in which people can drop applications and forms to obtain services. 

All government offices are urging residents to use telephone or Internet services to conduct business. Displaced workers or people in need of assistance should call 844 640 6066 to apply for Medicaid food and cash benefits. 

Those seeking unemployment benefits due to job loss or a cut in hours can apply online at Unemployment.ohio.gov or call 877 644 6562. Between Sunday and Monday, the state saw nearly 47,000 claims filed for unemployment benefits, according to a spokesman for Job and Family Services, including 36,645 filed Monday. For comparison, the state saw 562 applications filed March 8, the day before the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in the state.

In Hermitage, Pa., city officials said local government services will be maintained while precautionary measures will be taken to protect the public and employees by adhering to the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

All events and meetings at city buildings and facilities are canceled, except for meetings of theMercer County Board of Commissioners.

The following programs have been suspended or canceled: recycling for tires and electronics at the street department, fire inspections of occupied rental properties, and the police department will not issue transient business licenses.

County officials also are urging citizens to only call 911 in cases of emergency. Information about the coronavirus, testing and clinics can be obtained through the media or by calling 8334ASKODH or online at Coronavirus.ohio.gov. As of Tuesday, 67 positive cases of COVID-19 – the disease spread by the coronavirus – had been reported in Ohio, including two each in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, and 96 positive cases in Pennsylvania.

Peggy Clark, Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency and 911 coordinator said  her office is working with health officials who are working from the EMA offices. 

“We urge people to only call 911 for true emergencies and not as an information line,” she said.

Clark said Columbiana residents with questions can call the Health Department at 330 424 0272.

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Franklin delivered a message of reassurance to citizens that leaders are taking steps to continue serving residents’ needs, that fire, police and protective services have enacted appropriate safety protocols and urged all citizens to practice safety measures being enacted during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“I want to assure our residents the city doing everything we can to keep calm and common sense at the forefront of our efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus,” Franklin said. “The citizens of Warren are very resilient.  We’ve always looked out for each other and pitched in whenever and wherever we were needed.”

Officials also are warning residents to be aware of scams that are taking place. Cathy Jones, Mahoning County risk management director, said telephone and computer phishing scams are being reported. 

“Mahoning County does not solicit phone or online payments,” she said. “If you are contacted to make payments or sent an email, these are scams.”

Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Remedio-Righetti made a plea to citizens to follow instructions of health providers and to only patronize stores and conduct business for necessities.

“I know it’s allergy season, I have it, but if you are feeling sick, stay home.  Pay attention to the directions of our health officials and with God’s will we’ll all be safe. Enjoy your families at home,” she said at a press conference Tuesday in which chairs were spread apart throughout the Commissioner’s hearing room.

Pictured: Warren Mayor Doug Franklin addresses media with Bob Pinti, Warren health director, Cheryl Strother, director of nursing, and Eddie Colbert, safety service director.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.