Government orders, event cancellations and postponements continued Thursday as Butler County mirrored much of the nation in adjusting to a turbulent new way of life under the coronavirus pandemic.
An executive order closing all Ohio schools for three weeks starting at the end of school day Monday was issued by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine during his daily press conference on the COVID-19 virus.
A fifth Ohio victim of the virus was confirmed – this one a 55-year-old male in Trumbull County – and the patient had not recently traveled outside of Ohio.
The state also ordered no gatherings of a more than 100 people in a single room or space.
“We are in a crisis, and we have to treat it like that,” said DeWine, who described his orders as “very dramatic and drastic action.”
“We have responsibility to save lives,” he said.
Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton joined DeWine and said the disruptive changes in everyday life most be done to contain the spread of the virus.
“We are basically, slowly shutting down most of the structures of our society,” said Dr. Acton. “We are sort of waking up to our new reality.”
That “new reality” continues to radically alter the normal ways of Ohio and the nation.
Thursday also saw major American professional sports leagues, college athletic conferences and state prep sports associations cancel regular and postseason play. Among the historic changes, the beloved tradition of Cincinnati Reds’ opening day will be delayed two weeks.
And across Butler County public officeholders and local organizations scrambled to address questions about the COVID-19 virus, which continues to impact nations around the world in ways not seen in decades.
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Official warns “we’re trying not to be Italy”
Butler County Health Commissioner Jenny Bailer welcomed the state’s sweeping edicts, especially the banning of gatherings – with some exceptions such as church and funeral services – of more than 100 people.
Bailer also said she is encouraged by the collective forces being mustered locally to fight the virus’ spread.
“Over the last 48 hours we have witnessed organizations and people in Butler County pull together in ways I have not witnessed before,” she said. “Hospitals are prepared, schools are working hard to ensure as little disruption to students as possible, faith-based community, non-profits, service organizations and businesses are responding.
“Let’s stay the course, support one another, be kind to your neighbors and do what you can to help and assist others. This is not a sprint but a marathon and we need everyone’s help in this.”
At Wednesday’s Hamilton City Council meeting, the prediction from the head of the city’s health department was for more changes ahead for everyone.
“All I can tell you is we’re going to have to live a little bit uncomfortable for awhile,” said Hamilton Health Commissioner Kay Farrar.
She said officials are working to prevent more drastic measures.
“We’re trying not to be Italy. We don’t want to be closed everywhere except grocery stores and pharmacies,” she said. “So do your best to bear with us, stay calm.”
She explained what health officials are trying to avoid is a lot of disease outbreaks at once, as opposed to them happening more gradually, throughout time. If there are many all at once, there will be lots of EMS runs and hospitals will be at capacity.
“Does that mean we may decrease the number of people affected? Maybe not. But at least we spread it out over a longer period of time, where we can handle it, where it’s easier for us to look at the numbers and be able to say, ‘Yeah, Fort’s (Hamilton Hospital) got that many beds, we don’t have to go into Plan B,” she said.
“We’re ready to go as we need to go. But we’d rather do the flattened curve where we have the capacity to take care of everyone properly without having to commandeer a hotel and having to turn it into a hospital, etc,” said Farrar.
In Middletown, a local meeting of residents – all of whom were strategically sitting apart from one another to maintain the safe “social distance” now urged by health officials – included an update on the anticipated spreading of the virus.
“Be diligent,” said Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips. “It’s here…. Right now we’re at community spread” she told the audience of more than two dozen.
In attendance were mostly older residents who received an update on how pandemic started and the importance of maintaining good hygiene to protect themselves and others.
Phillips also urged people to get a flu shot as March is when influenza B is prevalent and is the second peak of the flu season.
She said her department has been working with churches, community organizations, businesses and others trying to help them to determine a path moving forward to keep open and operating.
“People are planning ahead, staying calm and being prepared as they think about ‘What if?’”
Virus concerns impacting variety of community services
Some boards of election in Ohio, including in Hamilton County, are having trouble with older poll workers staying home during the coronavirus outbreak.
The concern is not enough poll workers to work Election Day on Tuesday.
Butler County Board of Elections officials, however, said their older poll workers are also declining to work Election Day, but at the moment they say they have backup poll workers to cover the polls on Tuesday.
And even escaping the anxieties brought on by the historic virus by enjoying a good book is now threatened. Cari Hillman, community engagement director for the MidPointe Library System, announced Thursday the library system will temporarily suspend its Library on Wheels Outreach Department services. This includes Bookmobile school visits, retirement community programming, homebound delivery and the “Books by Mail” service.
Additionally, branch outreach visits to preschools, community centers and schools will be postponed until a date to be determined, Hillman said.
But she added “all MidPointe Library brick and mortar locations will remain open normal hours and continue to offer all regularly scheduled services and programs.”
Butler County’s bottom line is remaining stable so far, said County Treasurer Nancy Nix.
Treasurer Nix states, “Butler County’s investment portfolio is invested exclusively in high-quality fixed income securities. In fact, as stock market values have declined, fixed income prices have risen, meaning the market value of the Butler County portfolio has significantly increased.”
Staff writers Mike Rutledge, Ed Richter and Michael D. Pitman contributed to this story
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