Deputy health commissioner provides COVID-19 update

By Ryan Carter - [email protected]

Approximately three months after Ohio’s “stay at home” order was put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fayette County and the southwestern portion of the state have not experienced the large amount of coronavirus cases afflicting many parts of the nation.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Fayette County had 46 total cases of COVID-19 with 43 of those recovered, according to Fayette County Public Health (FCPH). There were 169 individuals monitored for the illness and there are 13 currently being monitored. Six individuals were hospitalized and there are currently zero hospitalized. There have been zero deaths.

This week the Record-Herald interviewed FCPH Deputy Health Commissioner Leigh Cannon for her thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic, where the county currently stands, and looking to the future. The following is the interview with Cannon:

With Fayette County currently at only three active cases of COVID-19 and 46 total, what are your overall thoughts about how county citizens have flattened the curve? Have we done exceptionally well or is it a case of the virus not hitting this area as hard as expected? Both?

Cannon: The entire southwest part of the state has seen lower case numbers than other regions of the state. We are unclear to exactly why the rural portion in southwest Ohio is experiencing this lower case count. It is partly due to diligence in following the protocols and doing our part to flatten the curve. One factor we do know is that we have a less populated area overall. That is contributing to lower case numbers as we have more room to implement social distancing, however, that does not mean we are without vulnerability to this virus.

With so many businesses reopening in the area, are you concerned that we will soon see a spike in cases and more community spread? In your opinion, are local businesses doing a good job of following ODH safety protocol and regulations?

Cannon: We have been concerned about a spike in case numbers since things have opened up as rapidly as they have. We did see an uptick in cases after the Memorial Day holiday which was also the time more businesses were allowed to re-open.

For COVID-19, the role of Public Health is to prevent and control the spread of illness while allowing things to open and still keep people safe. From the beginning Fayette County Public Health has emphasized to our local businesses that we are a “Partner” first and an “Enforcer” last. Our businesses have done an EXCELLENT job implementing the guidance and orders. It has been challenging for everyone, including us, to navigate through the orders, as they sometimes can change on a daily basis. We have been fortunate enough to assist our partners in planning for a safe opening, and working collaboratively throughout this process.

As complaints come into our office we have been handling those through an educational manner. We have had to make very few compliance checks. Even then, we are using this as an opportunity to educate and correct errors versus issuing fines or punishments. That would come only as a very last resort. After all we are all swimming together in these uncharted waters and working together is the only thing that will get us to the other side.

Since the pandemic began, have we had any cases in local nursing homes or the county jail? What are nursing homes and the county jail doing for prevention?

Cannon: We have had zero confirmed cases in our nursing homes and our county jail. “Knock On WOOD.” This has been one of our biggest fears. Nursing homes immediately took extreme precautions that were guided from the state level to protect our most vulnerable population. We feel compliance in this action has kept us safe, although again, we are not without risk. FCPH and Fayette Memorial Hospital have worked together to ensure any and all needs of the area long term care facilities are met. This includes conversations around testing needs, visitors, isolation procedures and personal protective equipment/supplies.

As for the County Jail, we have been working side by side with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office to reduce the jail population where applicable, implement a isolation plan if we would indeed have a positive case, reduce incoming visitors, monitor staff and implement all social distancing orders where applicable per the state requirements. As we all know our jail is not the most optimal building to face an infectious disease outbreak. We had only wished we could have been in the new facility before this happened, as we would be much more well equipped to isolate inmates. I feel FCPH nursing staff and the jail staff have gone above and beyond to implement safety procedures and due to their extreme efforts we have managed without a positive case in our jail. Again, this still does not mean it will not happen. We are just grateful to have all of this time to prepare for this situation if it would happen.

Several individuals have complained to the Record-Herald that they don’t see many people in Washington Court House wearing masks when they are out and about. Do you see this as a problem? Can you explain the importance of wearing a mask?

Cannon: We recognize the controversy surrounding wearing a mask in public. We appreciate everyone’s opinion on this issue, however, we firmly feel wearing a mask reduces the spread of germs and protects our most high risk populations. Masks help keep germs from getting out. We know that COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets. Wearing a mask keeps those droplets from being released around you and preventing the risk of it being passed on to others. We all have the personal responsibility to protect our family and neighbors. While not everyone will experience severe symptoms of COVID-19, our most vulnerable populations can.

Our focus at FCPH is keeping the high risk groups from becoming infected and preventing severe complications, hospitalizations and in worst case situations, death. Those high risk groups include: People 65 and over, people with asthma, chronic lung conditions, heart conditions, immunocompromised, severe obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and liver disease. Wearing a mask may seem like a silly unnecessary thing to you, but to someone else you could be saving their life. It is important to understand that while things are opening with restrictions, these restrictions are in place because the risk has not gone away. Our preparation to handle the risk has improved.

We need everyone to take personal responsibility in this situation, so we can continue to keep Fayette County’s numbers low. I realize everyone is tired of all of this, trust me I am too, but we are getting closer to the other side of this thing. Let’s not go backwards! We need to keep staying together and be diligent in protecting our own health and the health of those around us.

Are you concerned of a second wave of COVID-19 coming in the fall? Do you think we are better prepared to handle it if it occurs?

Cannon: Yes, I am always concerned about this. As we are unsure what weather does exactly to COVID-19, there is always that thought in the back of our minds that we may see a serious surge as the cooler temperatures embark upon Ohio. However, I feel yes, we are much better prepared to handle a surge than we were in January. This very reason is why we shut things down in the beginning, to build capacity as well as equipping ourselves with resources needed to properly care for patients and save lives!

Any more pertinent information for county residents?

Cannon: This has been by far the most challenging time of my career. The one thing that I have always known and it has been enforced, is that Fayette County is the BEST county to work and live in. We want everyone to know that we are continuing to give this our all, focusing on a risk based approach and working with local sectors to safely continue to open things like schools, county fair, and larger gatherings and events. Now is the not the time to turn on each other as we are so much closer to digging our way out of this. The more grace and compassion we can show as a community the quicker we will be able to return to our “normal” lives.

Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352.

By Ryan Carter

[email protected]