CIRCLEVILLE — For the first time in several weeks, Pickaway County elected officials and department heads met via teleconference to hear updates on the state of the COVID-19 virus and pandemic.
Hearing from the leadership at the health department, OhioHealth Berger, The Emergency Management Agency and the Educational Service Center, updates on where things are and preparations going into fall were the forefront of discussion.
Pickaway County Commissioner Brian Stewart led off the meeting sharing the background on where Pickaway County was and what some of the measures taken have been.
“We allocated $100,000 to allow any agency to respond to this situation and we’ve been refilling that balance as needed and we’ve upgraded the buildings to provide glass barriers for staff interested in having them,” Stewart explained. “Those have been installed in most offices, but we still have a few left to do. We’ve increased cleaning to make sure both the public and our employees are staying safe.”
Stewart said the county has been working to acquire personal protection equipment (PPE) for the county and they’re still planning for all scenarios.
“The plans are there to account for bed shortages and other quarantine methods that may need to be used, but hopefully we won’t have to use,” he added.
Darrin Flick, Emergency Management Agency Director, echoed Stewart’s statement and said that the county is much better positioned than it was in March.
“We’re continuing to coordinate and monitor the situation everyday,” he explained. “We don’t have everyone in [the emergency operations center] everyday like we did before. We’re still meeting twice a week with the state, and weekly with the health department and coordinating with other agencies as needed. We’re keeping an eye on the fall and that’s the big thing, to posture ourselves for anything as school returns or anything else happens.”
Flick said he’s also been monitoring what Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has been ordering and is preparing for additional orders soon.
“We anticipate additional orders coming this week,” he mentioned. “If I look at my crystal ball, I think there’s going to be a mask mandate, but we’ll see what happens.”
Flick also gave an update on the numbers of cases worldwide, nationally, in Ohio and locally. Currently there are 272 community-spread cases with five community deaths and 2,013 inmate-spread cases with 37 deaths.
Flick concluded his update with the news of vaccines indicating there are several under development.
“The studies are showing positive results and we have one here entering phase three and another is showing more antibodies than previously exposed COVID patients have. We anticipate seeing vaccines available in the fall in smaller quantities and in spring and summer 2021, a full-scale push of vaccines.”
Susan Foster, Pickaway County Public Health Director of Nursing, said they’re actively following 56 cases and are monitoring changes and updates to the four-tiered advisory system recently unveiled by DeWine.
“The Ohio Department of Health and the governor are still working on how they can make this system the best one possible,” she remarked. “The governor wants to update it every Thursday and ODH is going to back him on that. Things will be evaluated Wednesday evening and we’ll receive information that night if we go up to a level four or down to a level two. It’s not a whole lot of heads up.”
Foster also said that Pickaway County is part of the Central Ohio region and as such, numbers might be skewed if you look at the regional picture.
“We’re kind of clumped in with the central region and our ICU and ER visits don’t depend on just OhioHealth Berger but the whole region,” she said. “It includes Franklin County, so you’ll see bigger hospitals that have more hospitalization utilization than our OhioHealth in PC.”
Foster also discussed the after action reports for the fair say it would be available soon, but highlighted some of the positives and different ways so things could have gone better.
“Major strengths of the fair were planning and the organization piece,” she explained. “The fair board did a great job with planning and laying things out well. The collaboration was another major strength between the fair board, the county agencies involved, the county commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office. If you want a strong county, you have to have that collaboration. As far as areas of improvement, we thought the execution was not up to par and could have been better. We thought masks for food vendors and staff could have been better enforced.”
Tim Colburn, OhioHealth Berger Hospital President and CEO, shared an update on the hospital. He said the hospital is seeing an uptick in cases and more cases than the middle of May.
Kristen Gardner, chief nursing officer at OhioHealth Berger, said they are still seeing a steady stream of patients into the emergency department and they’re testing anyone who comes in for an inpatient visit. She also shared they’re screening people for COVID in new ways.
“They can screen themselves on their phone and when they’re deemed clear, they can come in,” she commented. “If you’re exhibiting a new system, it triggers and then you go home, it notifies your manager and then also triggers you to get a test.”
Garnder said they still are allowing only one visitor per patient and that they control when they come.
“The patient designates who they are and we decide when they come in and for how long,” she said. “They have to be well and they must wear a mask.”
Colburn urged people who have been putting off seeking medical treatment to get it now if things take a turn for the worse.
“If you or your family are looking to consume healthcare services, we have a full-court press for safety right now,” he added. “Please do that now so if we get a higher spike in cases and a decline in availability of resources, you can get in now and be treated more safely. I’d say that for any system, not just the one that I work for. We’re experiencing a higher than normal return for patients in 60 days because they’ve waited too long and we’ve experienced more complicated surgeries and extended stays.”
Ty Ankrom, superintendent for the Pickaway County Educational Service Center, gave updates on what the schools across the county were doing in preparation for the upcoming school year.
“We’re closely monitoring the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Department of Health mandates and have a task force studying them,” he explained. “All our plans are well constructed, but the situation is fluid and things are subject to change.
Ankrom shared the current plan in that if Pickaway County is on an alert level one or two, school will operate five days a week, have split classes with students going two days a week in two pairs if the county is under a level three and be at full-online learning if the county is at a level four.
Ankrom said to accommodate that, they’ve added professional development for teachers to help aid them to instruct students online.
“I think we all improved as the spring went on and there’s some planned professional development for all teachers to provide remote learning,” he said.
Ankrom shared updates on athletics and guidelines and that athletes would be tested frequently in contact sports and if anyone on a team tests positive then the whole team cannot participate for two weeks.