Nursing Homes to Report Virus Infections; Liquor Sales Restricted to Ohioans

Updated April 13, 2020, 5:25 p.m. | Quotes from Columbiana County Health District and Law Enforcement Officers Union
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — During his daily briefing Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced a pair of new orders requiring long-term care centers in the state to notify residents and families of COVID-19 infections within the centers.

Another order prohibits liquor sales in Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Ashtabula, Belmont and Jefferson counties to anyone who doesn’t hold a valid Ohio identification.

DeWine said he has received complaints from chiefs of police and others about Pennsylvania residents coming into those counties to purchase alcohol, he said. The commonwealth closed its own state-owned liquor stores on March 16.

For anyone looking to purchase alcohol in those counties who doesn’t have a valid Ohio ID, they can also present another form of identification, such as a utility bill, showing their address is an Ohio address.

Meanwhile, notifications are to be given within 24 hours of diagnosing a resident or staff member with the virus, DeWine said. Families of long-term care residents “have a right to know if individuals associated with the places where their loved one is are, in fact, sick,” he said. The information will also be made public.

“We will be providing a list of the long-term care facilities where an individual there, whether a member of the staff or one of the residents, has tested positive,” DeWine said. “That will be posted on the Ohio Department of Health website.”

While the overall data on the percentages of coronavirus cases comprised of those in long-term care centers have always been public, Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health advised caution when reacting to the state’s publishing of names of the long-term care centers where infections are recorded.

“It’s not the fault of a nursing home,” she said. “Most nursing homes are doing an outstanding job. But it is the fact that this disease is so contagious, and as even workers or caregivers come, even as doctors are visiting these nursing homes, anyone of us could asymptomatically be carrying this virus from the community into a place like this. That’s why we have so many of the rules in place.”

Acton commended the leadership of the state’s long-term care centers and prisons, where social distancing has proven difficult. “We’ve known all along that nursing homes were going to be a very high-risk place for us in Ohio as it is everywhere around this country,” Acton said. “

The state health department has worked closely with local, state and federal agencies, as well as those in other states “on trying to make sure we’re always doing the best practices,” Acton said.

“So whenever there’s an outbreak in a high-risk area like this, the local health departments work alongside those facilities to do that very basic disease investigation that we did in the beginning,” Acton said. “You test right away, you see who is contact.”

The state department has been working “for weeks” on how to best make use of scarce personal protective equipment to help keep the virus from spreading. But “we know these will be our hotspots,” and in the coming months, long-term care centers and prisons “are areas we have to keep close tabs on,” she said.

Regarding prisons, the governor announced members of the Ohio National Guard remain at the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton. Testing that began Saturday at the Marion Correctional Institution, a state prison, is continuing.

On Monday afternoon, the Federal Bureau of Prisons website listed 24 inmates and 15 staff members at FCI having tested positive, with three inmate deaths.

According to Joseph Mayle, Law Enforcement Officers Union president, on Monday afternoon, 37 inmates were hospitalized at outside hospitals, with 18 on ventilators; 61 were in quarantine; 51 were in isolation, including 10 in the Bridge Unit; and 14 staff members had tested positive for the virus.

The governor also announced an order authorizing National Guard members to assist medical staff at the Pickaway Correctional Institution, where more than a dozen staff members have been out sick with COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus. One inmate there, who had a long-term chronic illness, has died from the disease.

National Guard members will assist with triage support, taking temperatures and helping with non-COVID-19 cases. They will also assist with the on-site long-term care center there for those with chronic issues.

DeWine said he has received complaints from chiefs of police and others about Pennsylvania residents coming into those counties to purchase alcohol, he said. The commonwealth closed its own state-owned liquor stores on March 16.

“Any other time, we would love to have visitors from Pennsylvania,” DeWine said. “But during this time, those who are coming into buy liquor are creating a health hazard. And that is something that we have to take action in regard to that.”

The Columbiana County Health District announced it would help support the order on liquor sales, citing complaints it’s received about Pennsylvania residents coming into the state to purchase alcohol.

“Over the past few weeks complaints received by our office about the lack of social distancing at our are liquor stores along the Pennsylvania border have been a regular occurrence,” the district stated in a release, adding that health departments from Steubenville and Lake Erie fielded similar complaints. “Many complainants state the influx of Pennsylvania customers have added to the problem. The large increase of customers has made attempts by liquor store owners to enforce social distancing all but impossible,” according to the release.

Although local law enforcement can issue citations related to mass gatherings, the health department notes, “A better answer was needed.”

It was reported that state Rep. Tim Ginter, R-5, has been an active partner in the health department’s effort to manage the pandemic and, when his office was notified about the issues being seen at area liquor stores, he made contact with other state officials to expedite a solution.

“We are grateful the governor and Ohio Department of Health acknowledged the risk to our community and acted swiftly with this order,” the release continues, saying the county health department will continue to work with local law enforcement to assure adequate safety are in effect to protect residents.

Jo Ann Bobby-Gilbert contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.