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Residents urged to stay safe for holiday

LISBON — Health commissioners from Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties joined together online Tuesday to urge residents in the Mahoning Valley to consider canceling plans involving groups outside their immediate households for Thanksgiving.

All three counties are currently at level three, red, on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System map. Mahoning County issued a stay at home advisory on Tuesday, urging people to wear masks in public and to only go out for work, school or essential purchases. Trumbull County is reportedly considering a similar advisory and on Tuesday pushed all schools to remote through Jan. 3.

Columbiana County Health Commissioner Wes Vins said he does not anticipate a stay at home shutdown here, but he suggested people should make the choice to stay home when possible anyway.

Vins pointed out he knows many people do not like to be told what to do, but urged them to take on the role of a community member, protecting other people in the community by not gathering in groups with extended families and friends over Thanksgiving.

“We understand how tiring and difficult this is,” Vins said, “but we’ve all been impacted and the time to act is now, if not for ourselves, then for others. No one wants to spread the virus to someone they love, so please stay home this Thanksgiving, wear a mask and maintain a safe distance.”

The three health commissioners all cited statistics showing a large increase in the number of cases since the week of Halloween.

Vins said cases have quadrupled since Oct. 30, when the county was seeing an average of 15 cases per day. On Friday, the average was 63 per day with cases spread across the county, forcing the health department to make staffing adjustments.

Vins noted if numbers continue to increase at the same rate, the health department will be unable to keep up with all the positive test results to provide contact tracing within 24 hours, letting people know when they need to quarantine due to a close contact. He also noted the hospitalizations are increasing and the local hospitals are looking at expanding capabilities to make certain they can keep up with cases.

Similar case increases were reported by Mahoning County Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac and Trumbull County Health Commissioner Frank Migliozzi. Mahoning County numbers have increased 300 percent from a daily average of 41 cases per day to 171 cases per day on Saturday. Trumbull County has seen a large increase, rising from 27.6 per day to 160.7 per day.

Migliozzi said they are struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing case load with 48 percent of Trumbull County’s cases since the beginning of the pandemic occurring in the past three weeks.

Tekac suggested that people need to isolate at home if they are tested while they await the test results and notify the close contacts they have been around should they test positive. He defined a close contact as anyone you have been closer than six feet from for more than 15 minutes at any time within the 48 hours before symptoms arrive. Those people need to quarantine for 14 days.

“As we approach this season, normally it is the time we want to gather with family and friends,” Tekac said. ” But these gatherings are placing others at risk of contracting the virus and endangering those who are at high risk.”

Instead he urged people to think about others and make the decision to keep family members healthy.

In addition, Tekac said people are gathering to watch football on the weekends or other get-togethers, contributing to the cases increasing. He suggested we need to make a change now and realized help in the form of a vaccine is on the way. Gov. Mike DeWine announced on Tuesday the vaccine will be arriving in Ohio around Dec. 15.

When asked about the mental health aspect of canceling holidays when people have already missed out on so much, Tekac said people need to realize this is temporary, not something that is going to continue year after year. But for this year, he suggested having a virtual call during Thanksgiving dinner or making a quick drive past an elderly family member’s home.

“We also recognize there is a huge mental health component with this,” Vins said. “Much of what we deal with is emotional. It’s fear. It’s concern. It’s disappointment. It’s loneliness.”

Still, Vins said it is important to look for options for enjoying the holidays and family members, noting in his own family they usually gather with 75 to 100 people.

“This year it’s just not going to be the same,” Vins said. “We’re going to be at home and all of our families have chosen to stay home because that is the safe thing for them to do this year.”

djohnson@mojonews.com

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