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DeWine softens on March 1 back-to-school deadline as Youngstown struggles to meet it

Not meeting the deadline is "simply not acceptable," the governor said during a special address last week. But he appeared to back off Thursday, even shifting the spotlight to Canfield’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Mayor Duffett 02182021
Canfield Mayor Richard Duffett dring the state's coronavirus update on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021.

COLUMBUS — The state spotlight was on Canfield’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic during Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus briefing Thursday. 

In early November, when COVID-19 started surging statewide, DeWine encouraged local leaders to step up. 

To combat local spread, Canfield Mayor Richard Duffett put together a COVID-19 ask force to amp up the community's adherence to public health measures. 

At the task force's first meeting Nov. 6, Duffett said he hadn't spoken out to people who weren't wearing masks in public. But he started doing so and encouraged others to do the same. 

"We've already had people say, 'it's going to be gone by Election Day,'" Duffett said in November. "Well, that's already come and gone and it's not."

During Thursday's briefing, Canfield Local Schools Superintendent Joe Knoll also discussed his strategies for keeping the district open throughout the pandemic. 

For example, he relies on parents to check their kids for symptoms before heading to school, and the district has used technology to make meetings safer.

"It's been hand-to-hand combat. It's been day-to-day," said Knoll. "But every day we're in-person teaching is a blessing."

"This has been a really great, great effort so thank you for your hard work," DeWine said. 

Back to school 

Youngstown City School District is one of the state's few district that has not returned to some form of in-person schools.

To vaccinate school staff, the district pledged to return to the classroom by March 1, but it doesn't appear it will make the deadline, despite DeWine's unwavering stance on getting back to school by the beginning of next month.

Not meeting the deadline is "simply not acceptable," DeWine said during a special address the evening of Feb. 12. But he appeared to soften by Thursday, calling the school vaccination program successful. 

He noted the percent of students fully remote has fallen from about 40 percent in December to 12 percent now.

"The fact that some may miss [the March 1 school opening] is not good, but I think we need to keep our eye on the ball," he said. "We should not fixate on the 5 percent or so that is not full."

Youngstown Schools spokesperson Denise Dick said Thursday the district expects to announce reopening plans for in-person classes early next week. 

In the meantime, the district is continuing to administer coronavirus vaccinations to 1,350 employees. So far, the district has received 1,100 doses of the coronavirus vaccine and administered at least 800 first shots to faculty and staff, the district’s nursing supervisor said last week.

CEO Justin Jennings during his first CEO update of the year last week said the district is focusing on administering vaccinations and continuing to “keep people healthy.”

One of the challenges to returning to the classroom is transportation. Jennings said he would use incoming federal pandemic relief funding for more transportation, but the ordering process could take months.

Other news

• According to the latest figures Thursday from the Ohio Department of Health, the state is reporting 947,389 confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus. There have been 19,034 confirmed or suspected cases in Mahoning County; 13,962 in Trumbull County; and 7,969 in Columbiana County.

• Statewide, there have been 16,611 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 deaths, including 527 in Mahoning County; 445 in Trumbull; and 176 in Columbiana. Mahoning County’s 527 reported COVID-19 deaths on Thursday was eighth among Ohio’s 88 counties; Cuyahoga County had the most with 1,656.

• In nearby counties: Stark, 28,627 cases and 813 deaths; Portage, 10,646 cases and 150 deaths; and Ashtabula, 5,584 cases and 137 deaths.

• The number of state COVID-19 deaths has continued to spike after last week’s discovery of as many as 4,000 unreported COVID-19 deaths in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Health has reconciled an internal death certificate database with a federal database and added those deaths to the state’s tally.

Columbiana County Health District announced its coronavirus vaccination clinic set for today has been rescheduled due to inclement weather that delayed the district’s vaccine shipment. The drive-thru clinic has been moved to Wednesday starting at 9 a.m. at the Columbiana County Vaccination Complex at the Columbiana County Fairgrounds. Those who registered for today’s clinic will be contacted via the district’s automated system.

Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown testified Thursday during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on COVID-19 recovery efforts. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Cleveland, D-Ohio, chairman of the committee, led the hearing that featured the mayor and other witnesses who discussed their priorities for COVID-19 recovery, including the need for immediate, equitable relief.

• According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Thursday, there were 905,995 COVID-19 cases in the state which have led to 23,413 deaths. The state said the recovery rate is 88 percent. There have been 7,880 confirmed or suspected cases in Mercer County and 237 deaths; 5,869 cases in Lawrence County and 178 deaths. In Mercer County, 11,662 people have received the first of two vaccination doses and 4,280 have received both; in Lawrence County, 6,551 have received one dose; 2,402 have received both.

• Health care providers administered more than 100,000 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to first-time recipients despite earmarking those shots for individuals receiving a second dose, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. As a result, about 100,000 people will see their immunization appointments rescheduled in coming weeks, including between 30,000 and 60,000 set to receive the second dose, officials said.