Health Commissioners: Staying Home is ‘the Safe and Responsible Thing to Do’

Update, 5 p.m. 11/24: Trumbull County Board of Health passes COVID-19 advisory.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Health commissioners for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties echoed the guidance of state health officials and the governor in asking Mahoning Valley residents to stay home for Thanksgiving.

In a joint virtual press conference Tuesday, commissioners Ryan Tekac of Mahoning County, Wesley Vins of Columbiana County and Frank Migliozzi of Trumbull County health departments expressed concern over the surging numbers they’re seeing in their respective counties.

In light of the increased cases and hospitalizations – and the resulting impact on area hospitals – the commissioners are “collectively concerned” about gatherings, and say abiding by standard guidelines and avoiding family gatherings is “the safe and responsible thing to do this holiday,” Vins said.

“We understand how tiring and difficult this all is, but the time to act is now,” Vins said. “Nobody wants to spread the virus to somebody they love. So please, stay home this Thanksgiving, wear your mask and keep a safe distance.”

Over the last four weeks, Columbiana County has seen its seven-day case average increase by four times, Vins said, and “we also continue to see an increase in hospitalizations.” Currently, the county is seeing an average of 63 daily cases, up from 15 on Oct. 30, he reports.

On Nov. 19, Mahoning County reported a record 236 cases in a single day, Tekac said. The county is averaging 171 cases daily, up from about 41 daily cases on Oct. 31, a 300% increase, he said.

In Trumbull County, Migliozzi reports a surge in cases “that we have never seen before,” he said. In October, the county was seeing about 25 to 30 cases daily and about 200 weekly, he said. Currently, Trumbull is seeing upward of 200 daily cases and exceeding 1,000 new cases weekly. Nearly half of all of the county’s cases have occurred in the last three weeks, he said.

Additionally, the positivity rate for Trumbull County has increased to more than 11%, up from 2.7%, Migliozzi said.

“It means we have a very high community spread,” he said. “Our resources are being stressed to the max and it’s nearly impossible for us to keep up at this point.”

The commissioners said area health systems are doing what they can to handle the increased hospitalizations. Many are shifting staff from other departments to help with the surge.

“They are definitely seeing surges within their facilities as well as having staff shortages,” Migliozzi said. “They are managing the situation as best as they can right now, and they stay updated with us on a weekly basis so we can assist them in any way they may need.”

As the current staff become stressed and tired, that is a concern amid ongoing hospitalization increases, Tekac said.

“We can manufacture [personal protective equipment] and ventilators, but unfortunately we can’t manufacture people,” he said.

Their sentiments echo those of leaders from the state’s hospital systems, who spoke during a special virtual press conference Monday with Gov. Mike DeWine.

County health offices have made staff adjustments as well to provide the best possible response for residents when investigating cases, Tekac said. But he and the other commissioners warned that if trends continue, it will impact their ability to perform timely contact tracing.

“Should community cases continue to increase at this rate, then Mahoning County Public Health department will be unable to respond to all positive test results within 24 hours,” and contact tracing may need to be prioritized, he said.

To help mitigate the spread, commissioners implored residents to follow the standard guidelines of wearing masks when in public, maintaining physical distancing when possible, practicing good hygiene and avoiding large gatherings, including Thanksgiving dinners with people outside of their households. They also recommended the following:

  • Anyone who has been tested for COVID-19 should isolate until their results are received.
  • Anyone that tests positive for COVID-19 should stay home and isolate from others.
  • If confirmed positive, assist public health by contacting close contacts – anyone you may have been around within six feet for longer than 15 minutes – and everyone who you had close contact with from 48 hours before you symptoms began until you self-isloated should quarantine for 14 days.

“Our communities have always shown grit and toughness in times of adversity,” Tekac said. “And I’m confident that our tri-county area can show this again by practicing these measures.”

The conference came just moments after the Mahoning County board of commissioners adopted a public health advisory for the county, including a “Mask-up Mahoning” campaign that recommends wearing a mask that fully covers the mouth and nose when entering all public places, businesses and where social distancing cannot be observed or maintained, according to a release.

The advisory encourages residents to stay at home and limit travel outside of the state. Residents are advised to leave home only to go to work or school or for essential needs, such as medical care, food or pharmacy. Limited gatherings are also recommended.

The stay at home advisory coincides with the 21-day curfew set by the state, according to the release.

“From a public health standpoint, we are fully supporting it,” Mahoning County’s Tekac said.

Trumbull County Board of Health at a special meeting Tuesday approved a similar advisory that advises all residents to stay at home to the “greatest extent possible” and to only leave for work, school or other essential needs. The board strongly advises against traveling in and out of the state, except for work, and forgoing having guests in homes during the holidays.

The Trumbull County advisory will remain in place for 28 days, or two consecutive incubation periods of COVID-19. The board also encourages businesses to allow as many people to work from home as possible, and advises all public and private K-12 schools to convert to remote learning fro the remainder of the calendar year.

The commissioners said they continue to receive complaints about businesses and patrons not abiding by standard guidelines, including wearing a face mask. While none confirmed they plan to implement any additional enforcement measures or regulations beyond what has already been issued, particularly among bars and restaurants, they will take action if the ODH’s Dine Safe Ohio order is continually ignored.

“If there are problems, we do receive complaints, we work with the business to educate them and get them into compliance,” Tekac said. “We try not to take a punitive approach. But if there are businesses we need to take that approach, we will step it up with our prosecutor’s office.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.