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Your Morning Matters: My last Mahoning morning

How bad is the pandemic in Ohio right now? Jess Hardin has the details.

Good morning and welcome to your Morning Matters — with reporter Jess Hardin.

It’s Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, and today is my last day at Mahoning Matters

When I think about my move to Youngstown three years ago, I feel like I unknowingly conjured an almost-too-meaningful miracle of timing. Somehow, I managed to be in the perfect place to catch a few wonderful people and things on their way out. 

Upon arriving, I lived with my aunt and uncle, four cousins and my 95-year-old grandparents at their bustling house in Liberty. Every morning, I sipped coffee across from my grandma as she read the newspaper she’s read her whole life. When she spotted my byline, her face lit up, and she’d say, “Oh, there’s Jessica Hardin!”

As one of the last reporters hired at the old Youngstown Vindicator, I barely made the team that would mobilize to give the 150-year-old paper a Viking funeral. Just one year in, I wasn’t ready to leave. Then, the Compass Experiment’s inimitable leader Mandy Jenkins gave me the opportunity to stay, and for something incredibly cool. Because I keep everything, I still have the notebook in which Mark, Justin and I brainstormed concepts we wanted Mahoning Matters to embody. I remember feeling incredulous that anyone let me do this. 

From the beginning, our little team covered the pandemic with a personal understanding of its capricious losses. Our dear co-worker and friend, business executive Mark Eckert, died of COVID-19 on March 29, 2020. He was generous and genuine, and while I didn’t know him for long, he made me feel like he’d been in my life forever. 

On the night of our October 2019 Mahoning Matters launch, in a moment of eerie elderly clairvoyance, my grandma told my mom, “Jessie won’t leave until I do.” When a new opportunity came up this summer, I thought with relief — and a little guilt for considering leaving — that she’d be wrong, but she wasn’t. Last Thursday, just five months after my grandpa died peacefully in his sleep, his wife of 67 years did, too

It’s not the note I expected to leave on at the beginning of last week, but, as always, my people came through.

Not only does he pick up my slack when my grandparents die, but Justin Dennis offers a reasoned listening ear at any time of day. I owe a huge debt to him for teaching me at least half of what I know about being a journalist. It’s been an honor to work with someone who so deeply believes in what we do. 

In all things, Mark Sweetwood has been my advocate. From defending me against internet trolls to editing my grandparents’ obituaries, he’s taught me to write with heart and showed me how to test a bridge without burning it. I feel incredibly lucky to have caught him at his wisest — so far, of course — and to have in him a mentor and a friend. 

I’m so grateful to our whole team — Jeremy Harper, Thea Nixon, Tom Williams and Eric Nelson — for the warmth, guidance and unwavering support. To our Mahoning Matters readers: Thank you for trusting me to tell your stories and for giving me the space and the patience to become a better journalist and a better steward of the community. In many ways, I owe this new role to you.

I look forward to joining you now as a loyal Mahoning Matters reader. You’re in good hands. Stay safe out there! Mark is back here Monday.

Now, here's what you need to know about the Mahoning Valley today:

When it comes to the latest COVID-19 surge in Ohio, state health officials have made it clear a mask mandate is not in the cards — even with cases nearly as high as last year's winter peak. 

In the two weeks since its last media session, the state's daily case count has risen from 4,800 new cases to nearly 8,000. Three hours after Thursday's news conference, the ODH reported a new eight-month, single-day case record of 7,897 new coronavirus cases. How bad is the pandemic in Ohio right now? We have the details.

Pandemic facts

  • In the U.S.: 40,600,606 confirmed cases; 654,576 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine at 9 p.m. Sept. 9.
  • In Ohio: 1,276,738 confirmed or suspected cases; 21,020 deaths.
  • In Pennsylvania: 1,333,308 confirmed cases; 28,498 deaths.
  • In the Mahoning Valley: 25,194 confirmed or suspected cases in Mahoning County; 18,591 in Trumbull; and 10,625 in Columbiana.
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average: Closed at 34,879.38, down 151.69 points, or 0.43%.

Other matters

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown was in town Thursday touting a $1 trillion bipartisan federal infrastructure package that could deliver $12 billion to Ohio, some of which could be used to repair or replace some of the 3,263 Ohio bridges now in need of repairs. Mahoning Matters

Attorney David Betras gets "slightly amused when I hear someone say they will not receive a COVID-19 vaccination because the shots contain a microchip that allows Bill Gates and the government to monitor their location." Want to know who really can monitor you — and how? Mahoning Matters

It's another busy weekend in the Valley, and Weekend Matters has some ideas, from a Jamey Johnson concert tonight to The Oakland Center for the Arts' Kids First Theatre Initiative to the Northeast Ohio Keyboard Festival. Mahoning Matters

East Liverpool Christian School classes are now meeting remotely. The school board said the reasoning behind virtual classes was out of caution for students and staff. WKBN

After Brookfield Local Schools canceled its JV and varsity football games set for this weekend against Liberty High School for COVID-19 reasons, it also implemented a mask mandate for its schools. WFMJ

Downtown stakeholders and other interested parties will meet Sunday afternoon at OH WOW! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology to discuss ways to address the city’s surge in violent crime. The Business Journal [May encounter paywall.]

The Boardman Civic Association's annual election forum will take place Sept. 20 at Boardman Park’s Lariccia Family Community Center. The Vindicator [May encounter paywall.]

In case you missed it

Speaking of COVID-19, Editor Mark Sweetwood has hit his breaking point. And it coincides with a number of factors associated with the delta surge and a few poorly behaved parents attending school board meetings with their crazy conspiracy theories and badly formed definitions of "freedom." And a recent obituary put his angst into perspective. Mahoning Matters

Your comments matter

“They are making the tough but correct decision. The health of kids comes first.”

Lee Ann Myers, on Poland and Newton Falls school districts reversing course and requiring masks for students.

Registered readers can comment on a selection of our stories, and all readers can comment on stories on our Facebook page. Opinions published here do not reflect the views of Mahoning Matters.

Event of the day

The Oakland Center for the Arts' Kids First Theatre Initiative will present the local premiere of the new Walt Disney musical comedy "The Descendants." The production will be staged at 7 p.m. today, Saturday and Sept. 17-18, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and Sept. 19 at Trinity Fellowship Church, 4749 South Ave., Boardman. Tickets are $15 for adults, which includes the bonus of two free children's tickets. Senior tickets are $13, and tickets for students age 12 through college are $10. Children age 4 to 11 are admitted free. For more information and reservations, call the theater at 330-406-0606. Tickets are available at the door.

To see what else is going on around the Mahoning Valley, check out Mahoning Matters’ event calendar here, or click the Events tab on the top menu at

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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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