Public virus emergency declared; masks required

By Debbie Rogers -

Wood County has been put in the “public emergency” category due to high-rising coronavirus cases.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine talked about the alert in Thursday’s news conference.

The level 3 alert means everyone must wear a mask in public, indoors and outside when 6-feet social distancing is not available, said Ben Batey, Wood County Health Department commissioner.

“With this alert, this is where the governor has taken a stance that masks are required for all indoors, unless there is a medical reason or for children under 10,” Batey said.

The state’s order on face coverings will take effect at 6 tonight.

The mask requirement stays in effect until Wood County moves to a lower level, Batey said. The earliest that would be is next Thursday. The state is updating alert levels once a week, compiling information on Wednesdays and announcing them on Thursdays, he said.

“This is sort of a warning for us — your cases are going up and we don’t want to see that trend,” Batey said.

While the level is serious, he said he was surprised that Wood County was put there and that residents should not be too alarmed.

“I honestly would say this is not the time to panic,” he said. “The system is meant to bring attention to the increase in numbers.”

He said there are seven indicators that drive where a county’s level is.

“When you check a few more, the level goes up,” Batey said.

Wood County’s numbers did increase last week, with 65 active cases being reported. Those numbers, though, are going down, from 63 on Wednesday and 54 today.

There are no “hotspots” in Wood County, although Bowling Green has the majority of cases, he said.

Batey also said that hospitalization levels in Wood County are low and capacity is “very solid.”

Wood County Hospital has zero coronavirus cases, he said.

Stan Korducki, president of Wood County Hospital, confirmed there are zero COVID-19 cases there.

“It’s not unexpected,” he said about the new level. “The governor and his health team are being very careful. They’re trying to stay on top of this. It’s their way of being proactive.

“I think if people really think through this, it is for the greater good.”

He said there’s a lot going on with coronavirus in the background, including scientists working on a vaccine.

“But, for now, those three simple techniques — hand washing, masking and social distancing — I know we’re tired of doing them all the time, but we really need to just stay the course for awhile,” Korducki said.

Batey was asked if last week’s mass testing at the Wood County Community Health Center contributed to the increase in numbers. There were over 400 tests administered.

“We’re confident in saying the answer to that is ‘no,’” he said. “We only had a handful of positives that came back so far from that mass testing.

“It may have contributed slightly but not in the fashion of numbers we saw.”

With the level 3, the public is encouraged to limit activities as much as possible.

Batey said he “100%, absolutely” agreed with that order from the state.

Staying home and wearing a mask while out will lower the level next week, he said.

“We’ve proven time and time again that we’re in control of this virus. We know what works to keep large outbreaks from happening,” Batey said. “If everyone can work together, we can very quickly get to level 2 or lower.”

For example, Huron County was a level 3 last week and decreased this week, he said.

“The goal for us is to recognize that we did have an increase, but we can get that back under control, and move us to orange (level 2),” Batey said.

Bowling Green Council on Monday began debating a mandated-mask ordinance.

On Thursday, Bowling Green Mayor Mike Aspacher said he supported that.

“One of our most basic responsibilities as elected officials is to protect the public, health and safety of our residents,” he said. “I know that this is not a popular decision. I know there’s a great deal of diverse opinion on this, but I just think this is something relatively simple that we can do: Wear a mask to help slow the spread.”

If the Bowling Green ordinance does pass, Aspacher said that enforcement will be a critical component.

“We’re conferring with our police chief on that and our law director,” he said.

The goal is not to penalize someone for not wearing a mask, Aspacher said.

“Our interest is to prompt people to practice these recommendations that have been indicated to help slow the spread,” he said. “We’re more interested in this being something we can use as a tool to help entice people to be safe.”

Wood is one of 12 counties in Ohio that are at level 3.

The information below is from the state:

The level 3, which has four-five indicators triggered, is a public emergency, according to Ohio’s alert systems. There are four levels, with level 4 being a public emergency when people should only leave home for supplies and services.

Level 3 means there is very high exposure and spread. The public is advised to limit activities as much as possible and follow all current health orders.

During the past three weeks, Wood County’s COVID-19 cases have increased, along with several other health care indicators.

During the past two weeks, Wood County had a total of 63 cases per 100,000 residents.

More than 18% of Wood County’s total cases have been in the past two weeks. From June 16-July 1, the average daily new cases significantly increased from less than one to nine.

Due to clinical and reporting lags, these numbers may continue to grow for this reporting period.

More than 89% of the cases are not in congregate settings, signaling significant transmission in the broader community. The community is also experiencing early signs that people are seeking medical care for COVID-19 symptoms. Between June 16 and July 2, the average outpatient visits nearly doubled form three to seven visits per day.

Multi-media journalist J.D. Pooley contributed to this story.

By Debbie Rogers