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Health official: Salem outbreak ranking not fair

SALEM– A national report has Salem at No. 5 in the nation for the next likely outbreak of the coronavirus, but local health officials are questioning that rank.

According to news partner WKBN, a graphic in The New York Times identified places where outbreaks might come next showed Salem fifth likeliest, based on data tracking total cases, deaths, hospitalizations and testing.

Columbiana County health commissioner Wes Vins said he does not believe it is a fair or accurate representation of what is happening in the county or Salem.

“The main reason is that the main population that caused the increase is, essentially, already isolated under quarantine,” he said.

Vins said he thinks the numbers are skewed because they are coming from the federal prison at Elkton, 25 minutes away. There has been an increase in testing as part of its surveillance to get a better understanding of COVID-19 in the prison population.

“We do know they’re not transporting those prisoners outside of the prison, so that tells me the severity of the illnesses are able to be handled by internal staff there at the federal prison,” he said.

Vins said the prison is under its own jurisdiction and those individuals are not part of the larger community in Columbiana County.

But The New York Times research ranks Salem as the fifth-highest average daily growth rate of coronavirus cases, saying the cases double every 11 days.

“The increase that shows up on that graphic in The New York Times is not alarming to me, based on the data we have and we look at it every single day. We have not seen that dramatic increase,” Vins said.

WKBN said the New York Times had not responded to questions about how it calculated the number reflecting Salem.

Vins said what he is looking for in the numbers is the impact of this gradual reopening in Ohio. He encourages people to keep respecting social distancing, wearing masks and handwashing. He said it is working across the Mahoning Valley.

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