By Mac Cordell and Kayleen Petrovia
Local agencies are ramping up their emergency response efforts in the midst of a sustained increase in COVID-19 cases.
“We are seeing a significant surge,” Fire Chief Jay Riley told Marysville City Council Monday night.
He said officials have “reactivated the Emergency Operations Center” to deal with the increase in coronavirus cases locally.
In September the community saw 30 cases per 100,000 residents, Riley said. By November the number had increased to 225 cases per 100,000.
“We are struggling to keep pace with that,” he said.
Union County Health Department Public Information Officer Jennifer Thrush said this morning the EOC was reconvened over the weekend in light of the increased cases.
“We are definitely seeing sustained spread of COVID-19 right now, in our community, in Union County,” Thrush reiterated.
She said the EOC allows for better coordination between local agencies when responding to those cases.
Thrush said UCHD, the Emergency Management Agency, Memorial Health, multiple Fire and EMS agencies, Marysville Police Department, the Union County Sheriff’s Office and social services like United Way are collaborating through the EOC.
She noted that the Congregate Care Coalition, which represents long-term care and correctional facilities, are also active.
Thrush said the EOC is now meeting virtually. Earlier in the year, members convened in person at the health department before it disbanded.
Although the EOC itself was temporarily inactive, Thrush said the health department and community partners continued to meet virtually once a week.
She said reconvening the EOC is an “extension” of those efforts and will allow more frequent contact and formality when coordinating responses to cases.
Riley said EOC officials are working with partners throughout the county on a daily basis “so they can make the best decisions for the city.”
The fire chief said COVID-19 is his “number one priority.”
“It is the only thing I am dealing with,” Riley said.
He said he could not “emphasize enough” the need for community members to fight the spread of the virus — wear a mask, wash their hands, limit the size of gatherings and maintain social distancing.
The chief said he knows there is “mask fatigue” that comes from wearing the masks along with other precautions, but he urged residents to remain vigilant.
Thrush noted that there is an increasing amount of evidence that shows “the masking is working.”
Riley encouraged residents to take precautions but said he does not anticipate restrictions to go so far as a statewide shutdown.
He said a large number of cases are coming from congregate settings — like nursing homes and prisons — or from social gatherings, not from businesses.
Thrush noted there is also currently an outbreak at a local long-term care facility.
“That heightens our sense of awareness and, honestly, our concern,” because the virus spreads especially quickly through vulnerable groups, she said.
She emphasized, though, that “there are definitely still a lot of cases coming from community spread.”
Contact tracing efforts have indicated that many cases are spreading between family members at home, as well as in social gatherings smaller than 10 people, Thrush said.
She said the health department’s epidemiologist is “so swamped” with contact tracing that a number of cases is not yet available. Thrush said the county has experienced “just under 1,000” COVID-19 cases, excluding those at state prisons.
Including cases at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, the Ohio Department of Health reports 1,186 cases in Union County.
Riley said the county has had just three COVID-19 related deaths.
“We are doing really good as a county, compared to other counties our size,” Riley said about the death total, but quickly added, “we still have a lot of people in the hospital.”
He said Memorial Hospital is seeing the impact of the increase.
“The hospital is surging and they are getting full,” Riley said, adding that in the past Memorial Hospital has allowed patients from other hospitals to be transferred, but has stopped.
“What we are seeing out of the Columbus area is there (are) no available beds,” Riley noted.
Chief Medical Hospital at Memorial Health Jason Russell said the hospital has been able to provide care to any patient at the emergency department, but recently could not accommodate taking “a few transfers of COVID patients from another hospital.”
“Unfortunately, due to the fact that we were experiencing a swell in our patient census, we did not have the beds available at that time,” he said.
Throughout the state, aside from bed space, Thrush said the healthcare system is being impacted negatively because community spread is causing employees to become sick.
Even if an individual doesn’t personally believe in the effectiveness of masks, Thrush urged them to wear one in order to protect healthcare workers.
Ultimately, she said it is “now more important than ever” to take precautions against the virus and be vigilant.
Riley noted that even if the recently announced vaccine is approved, it would take six to nine months before it could be widely distributed.
For now, Thrush said, “We are really asking our community to refocus our efforts on masking and social distancing.”
By Mac Cordell and Kayleen Petrovia