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Health department struggles to keep up with COVID issues

SALEM

Whether it’s mask wearing violations, the struggle to keep up with contact tracing or outbreaks in the community, it’s all COVID all the time for Salem City Health District personnel.

“This virus is out of control in the city of Salem,” city Health Commissioner Alanna Stainbrook said Wednesday.

Stainbrook updated city health board members on pandemic matters during their meeting, explaining that an outbreak is defined as two or more people testing positive. The department has been dealing with outbreaks at the schools, at Giant Eagle, the hospital and the two nursing homes within the city.

As of Wednesday, she said the city had 75 positive cases for the month of November and she’s expecting that number to go beyond 100 by the end of the month. The average number of contact tracings necessary for each positive case is four and at this point, she said nurse Kristen Toy has 40 to 75 people to contact. Between her and Stainbrook, Stainbrook said they need help.

Contact tracing is the process of contacting people who have been in contact with someone who tested positive and monitoring them while they’re in quarantine. Mayor John Berlin, who serves as the chairman of the health board by virtue of his position, offered up his administrative assistant, Debbie Bricker, to help out afternoons with the contact tracing.

Stainbook said they’ll see some relief with the school system because Columbiana County is doing a contract with the school districts to do their own contact tracing.

She also said overtime hours are high now and she understands the budget isn’t looking good, but that money will be reimbursed through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In the end, she said it should work out.

After an executive session, the board agreed to have the county administer the city’s $200,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Health for relief for local health districts. The county and East Liverpool also each received $200,000. Berlin said the department may try to obtain a subzero refrigerator for storing COVID vaccine with the funding, which must be spent by Dec. 30 unless the date for using the funds is extended.

In reviewing the report of Environmental Health Director Alan Masters, Stainbrook said he’s inundated with complaints about mask wearing, especially after the governor’s edict about mandatory masks. They had 18 complaints before 9 a.m. on Monday and even had a person come in person with concerns.

All the employees are part-time, including Masters, and she advised him to contact the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to see if they can send a team regarding compliance in the city of Salem.

“Walmart is our biggest offender but they’re not alone,” she said, noting other places in the city aren’t complying with the mask order.

A business can be ordered closed up to 24 hours for repeated violations. She said they’re getting hundreds of calls over the mask violations and said people wear a mask to get through the door of a business, then they take it off.

She gets emotional talking about it all.

“We appreciate all the work that you and Kristen and all the staff are doing. It’s like pushing a big rock up a hill, never seems to stop,” Berlin said.

In other business, the commission: approved a laptop purchase for $1,435 from Miller Tech, to be used for contact tracers; assigned the city utility superintendent as the sanitary agent for the health district; agreed to an increase in costs for needed temperature sensors for refrigerators for $693; approved passage of the 2021 food service fees after the third reading; and approved a wage increase for the registered sanitarian, Masters, to $20.50 per hour effective Dec. 16. He currently makes $19 an hour.

Berlin explained that Masters will be the supervisor over housing when the housing department moves to the health department, so that was part of the reason for increasing the hourly rate.

The next meeting of the health department is 2 p.m. Dec. 16 via Zoom.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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