U.C. Health Department struggles to interpret state guidelines


As new public health guidelines and orders are issued by the state, the Union County Health Department is working to assist local businesses through any confusion.
Health Commissioner Jason Orcena updated the Board of Health via Zoom during its Wednesday meeting.
As the state continues to reopen, Orcena said local health departments are facing difficulties with providing guidance and enforcing Ohio Department of Health orders.
Union County Prosecutor Thayne Gray clarified that public health orders from ODH are rooted in law and must be enforced. He said guidelines, on the other hand, are just tools “helpful in terms of fleshing those things out.”
Orcena said orders are often issued after the sector-specific guidance. He said the delay “creates this uncertainty on the part of the industry.”
To further complicate things, Orcena said in recent weeks there hasn’t even been guidance, just a press release regarding some sectors.
“It really has just put us in a sort of odd position as an agency… when all we have to go back on is an order that says they’re closed,” he said, referencing the original stay at home order.
Gray added that “things are out of sync,” and waiting days for the text of an order can be “very frustrating.
He said orders are typically posted later on the same day guidance is released, but there have been “a few notable exceptions.”
For instance, he said zoos and museums were officially reopened on June 10. When he checked for public health orders about them the night prior to the Board of Health meeting, June 16, they were still unavailable.
Orcena said UCHD faced a similar scenario regarding county fairs.
He said guidance for junior fairs was released several weeks ago, followed by preliminary and revised guidance for county fairs. The actual orders, he said, weren’t released until Tuesday.
Orcena said many people thought it was guidance for the use of fairgrounds – meaning other large events could be held there – but the orders speak “very specifically to the actual annual show.”
He said the fair scenario is an example of the “weird dynamic” due to an “incongruency in how it gets interpreted.”
Orcena said the state will sometimes provide clarification on calls with local health departments, but other times it will tell counties to consult with their legal counsel.
Since interpretation is so critical, Orcena said often times, “all we can say (to businesses and organizations) is, ‘Here’s the best guidance we have right now, decide how you’re going to move forward.’”
Through the confusion, he said the health department is continuing to work closely with local businesses. He said “they have given us a lot of grace and been very forgiving,” and willing to keep an open line of communication as new information arises.
Gray added there haven’t been any significant issues with enforcing orders and UCHD staff “has done a masterful job.”
In other business:
– Director of Environmental Health Marcia Dreiseidel told the board the reopening of local businesses is “so far, so good.”
She said the biggest complaint received by UCHD comes from individuals reporting restaurant employees who are not wearing face masks.
In contrast, Board member Tiffany Wood said she often hears from people, “Why are we still wearing these?”
Orcena said, along with the CDC and ODH, the World Health Organization’s official position is face masks are necessary, but “information is taken out of context” by people and used to creat mixed messages.
“There is ample evidence at this point that face masks, when on the right people, slow transmission,” he said.
He added face masks will be a critical tool and risk mitigation factor as Ohio returns to normal.
“It’s a hard message and it’s a politicized message right now, unfortunately,” Orcena said.
– The board accepted increases in the Reproductive Health and Wellness Grant from ODH to support telehealth reproductive health visits, for $24,000, and to provide on-site services at West Central Community Based Correctional Facility, for $45,000.
Director of Nursing Joyce Richmond said the health department has been interested in providing more on-site services at West Central and the grant is “an opportunity that we were all ready for.”
– Director of Health Promotion and Planning Shawn Sech said COVID-19 testing offered through a partnership with Lower Lights Christian Health Center is going well.
She said the “numbers aren’t really high,” as there were 20 people tested June 10, all of which were negative; 11 people on June 16 who had pending results at the time of the meeting; and six scheduled for Wednesday.
The agencies will reevaluate if they need to keep using a site as large as the fairgrounds, or if testing can be moved elsewhere.

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