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A two-governor approach: DeWine, Christie tag team on masks

In the past 11 days, Ohio has set new records for most new cases reported in a single day six times. As the record gets higher and higher, DeWine's refrain remains unchanged. 

COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that 38 counties are in Level 3 "red," the most the state has seen to date.

But he said that last week, too. 

This time:

  • 93 percent of Ohioans are living in a county that is "red" or has a high incidence of cases;
  • 74 percent of Ohioans are living in a "red" county;
  • 25 percent of Ohioans are living in an "orange" county;
  • Only 3 percent of Ohioans are living in a "yellow" county.

In the past 11 days, Ohio has set new records for most new cases reported in a single day six times. 

  • Oct. 9: 1,734 cases
  • Oct. 14: 1,880 cases
  • Oct. 15: 2,069 cases 
  • Oct. 17: 2,137 cases
  • Oct. 21: 2,239 cases
  • Oct. 22: 2,326 cases

As the record gets higher and higher, DeWine's refrain remains unchanged. 

"We can control this if we get 90 percent 85 percent of people wearing masks, keeping a distance and using their good common sense about the spread," he said Thursday, much like he has said week after week this fall.

DeWine said he spoke with local health officials Monday; they reported, "Ohioans are tired. They're laying their guard down. They want to see friends and family."

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie added his voice to DeWine's pleas Thursday when he shared his own experience with COVID-19 and his seven days spent in the intensive care unit. 

"I made a huge mistake by taking that mask off," he said about his decision not to wear a mask to the Rose Garden ceremony celebrating the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. 

"You’re just left alone with your thoughts," said Christie. "You start to think about life and death. It's like getting beaten up from the inside out."

Christie penned an op-ed about his experience in the Wall Street Journal, titled, "I should have worn a mask."

When DeWine was pushed by reporters about actions the state government can take to stem the rampant spread, he said "Government cannot mandate, unless we're in China or some totalitarian state. Govenment is not going to come knocking on your door telling you not to have people over to your house."

When asked why DeWine won't beef up his strategy of getting mask compliance by adding teeth to his unenforceable mask mandate, he blamed sheriffs, who he said wouldn't enforce the order. 

But that's not necessarily true. 

The mask mandate, as written, makes noncompliance a civil violation rather than a criminal one. It charges local health departments with enforcement. 

As a result, enforcement is "very difficult," said Bob Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye Sheriffs Association.

He noted, "We're not the mask police," but, if the mandate was a law, "It would be different."

Surge hits home

Previous coronavirus case spikes in Ohio have spared the Mahoning Valley, but that's not the case this time.  

Mahoning County last week saw its all-time highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day — 65, which beat a previous record of 62 new cases in one day in March, county Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac told commissioners Thursday.

Though the county’s average 15 new cases per day in August dipped to 9.6 in September, the county is now averaging 24.5 cases per day so far this month, and has tallied 514 new cases, he said.

Mahoning County earlier this month was elevated to level 3 “red” alert status under Ohio’s Public Health Advisory System map for the first time. New weekly data released Thursday indicate Mahoning County remains at "red" alert status and is also considered to have high incidence of coronavirus spread under U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

That means it has more than 100 new cases per every 100,000 in population. The county had 88.33 new cases per capita last week; 114.13 new cases per capita this week, according to the map.

The county also meets three of the state's seven risk indicators for coronavirus spread, including the number of new cases per capita; the number of new cases ocurring outside congregate settings such as long-term care or correctional facilities; and the number of outpatient visits for COVID-like illnesses.

One county coronavirus outbreak in the last three weeks is attributed to a wedding that took place in an adjacent county — “guests who attended didn’t take the measures seriously,” Tekac said, and the event was responsible for up to 25 new infections and one death.

During a Wednesday city council meeting, Health Commissioner Erin Bishop shared information about multiple outbreaks in the city of Youngstown. 

Two weeks ago, a woman was experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, got tested and had to wait two days for her results. During that time, she hosted a baby shower at her home with 17 other people. She tested positive for COVID-19 as well as several others from the baby shower.

There was an outbreak among players on the soccer team at Youngstown State Unversity since one player had symptoms and went to practice, Bishop said. The team was masked and socially distanced but were sharing water bottles, which resulted in a spread of cases.

Bishop said there has not been a huge outbreak at local schools since social distancing and masks are enforced. However, after-school activities have resulted in an increase in cases.

Since March, there have been 1,060 cases in the city, 146 hospitalizations and 48 deaths in Youngstown.

As the weather gets colder, Bishop said there are concerns about large gatherings indoors. People should limit the size of indoor gatherings, especially with family gatherings for the holidays.

“We have to really be cognizant of the amount of people we have in a house where we can’t social distance,” Bishop said.

Bishop encourages everyone to get a flu shot, and said people should still continue to wear their mask when out in public. There have been instances in schools and homes where someone had COVID-19, but since everyone wore a mask and kept their distance, the virus did not spread.

“I have seen time and time again that masks work as well as the distancing,” Bishop said.

Other news

• According to the latest figures Thursday from the Ohio Department of Health, the state is reporting 190,430 confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus. There have been 3,709 confirmed or suspected cases in Mahoning County; 2,270 in Trumbull County; and 2,128 in Columbiana County.

• Statewide, there have been 5,161 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 deaths, including 286 in Mahoning County; 134 in Trumbull; and 87 in Columbiana. Mahoning County's 286 reported COVID-19 deaths on Thursday was fifth among Ohio's 88 counties; Cuyahoga County had the most with 682.

• In nearby counties: Stark, 3,796 cases and 181 deaths; Portage, 1,620 cases and 68 deaths; and Ashtabula, 726 cases and 48 deaths.

• According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Thursday, there are 188,360 COVID-19 cases in the state which have led to 8,592 deaths. The state said the recovery rate is 79 percent. There have been 948 confirmed or suspected cases in Mercer County and 25 deaths; 777 cases in Lawrence County and 29 deaths.

• Pennsylvania bars and restaurants will see no reprieve from pandemic restrictions after the state House of Representatives fell short of overturning Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto on House Bill 2513, a measure that would ease capacity limits and alcohol sale restrictions on restaurant operations. The chamber needed a two-thirds majority, but could only muster 133 of the 135 votes needed.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a directive Oct. 16 that shortened the amount of time boards of elections have to certify ballots after the Nov. 3 general election moving the date from Nov. 24 to Nov. 18. The move prompted a letter from Democrats in the Ohio House of Representatives asking LaRose for an explanation, arguing the directive will not give boards enough time to count votes.

•  Mahoning County last week saw its all-time highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day — 65, which beat a previous record of 62 new cases in one day in March, county Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac told commissioners Thursday. The county is seeing a slight increase in hospitalizations, 53 in October compared to 41 in August, but far fewer deaths.

Mahoning County commissioners have allocated the county's $13.5 million share of federal CARES Act funding to various nonprofits or county boards, including Catholic Charities and Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership, which are putting $1.8 million toward rent, mortgage and utilities subsidies for struggling residents, and Valley Economic Development Partners, which is offering $2.7 million in relief to small businesses.

Nancy Voitus, Catholic Charities executive director, on Thursday told commissioners about 60 people have sought help with utility payments during the pandemic; a couple more for mortgages. The nonprofit now has four dedicated employees working to process calls for assistance. If you need help with rent, mortgage or utility payments, you can call the nonprofit at 330-744-3320 and ask about CARES Act funding, Voitus said.

• So far, Valley Economic Development Partners has given out $1.25 million in CARES Act subsidies to 132 local small businesses, said Executive Director Teresa Miller. Of those businesses, several were restaurants, beauty salons and hotels, but the majority of claimants were highly varied, she said. With a third round of funding, the agency looks to fund another 26 approved applicants, Miller said.

• Another $13.8 million has been allocated by the county auditor's office to other political subdivisions in the county, officials said. Of that funding, $32,000 marked for one locality has yet to be claimed. Unclaimed funds return to the auditor for reallocation in November.

ONE Health Ohio will be offering free drive-thru COVID-19 testing to the Warren community for patients 5 years of age or older on Friday, Oct. 30. Testing will be available at the Lloyd McCoy Community Health Center, 1977 Niles Road SE, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Register by calling 330-884-6122 by Thursday at 11 a.m.

Mercy Health’s Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care mammovan will be at the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown, 505 Gypsy Lane, from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 28. To register, visit jccyoungstown.org.

•  Trick-or-treating will continue as normal for most of Mahoning Valley this Halloween despite the CDC guidelines which list the tradition as a high-risk activity. A few cities have canceled traditional trick-or-treating or created alternative plans. See the complete list at Mahoning Matters DOT Com.

— Mahoning Matters reporters Justin Dennis and Ellen Wagner contributed to this story.



Jess Hardin

About the Author: Jess Hardin

Jess Hardin is a reporter for Mahoning Matters. She grew up in Pittsburgh and last worked at The Vindicator. Jess graduated from Georgetown University.
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