Howell: ‘We’ve proven before that we were resilient’

BEAVERCREEK — Greene County Health Commissioner Melissa Howell focused on residents’ resiliency during a virtual update to Beavercreek Chamber of Commerce members April 15.

“We have come together for our response,” Howell said of all the communities.

During the Zoom video conference, the health commissioner shared data up to April 15, when 31 positive COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the county. Howell said, at that time, Greene County Public Health had reviewed 121 reports — 81 of those individuals had been tested, while 34 had not and it was unknown for six.

Of the 31 positives, Howell said nine were hospitalized, two were in the intensive care unit and two were placed on ventilators. She reported 14 had recovered, 15 remained under surveillance, and two had died. The state has since re-classified the second death.

As of April 11 data, the average age of resident with a positive case in the county was 49.7; the youngest was a 12-year-old male and the oldest was an 87-year-old female. Fairborn and Beavercreek zip codes were the locations primarily affected.

Greene County cases have proven there is community spread, as well as spread within family members and in health care workers, Howell explained. The county saw its peak of cases around March 25.

“We know these numbers being reported are very low,” she told listeners. “This is being attributed to the lack of testing. It could also be attributed to strict case definitions because we were looking for the true case definition for what COVID-19 looks like — coughing, shortness of breath and fever.”

Mobilizing the community

Before following cases every day became the norm, the health department began mobilizing the community when the first case in the U.S. was reported in late January. Staff reached out to health care professionals and first responders and offered guidance.

Today, coordination with local partners continues.

One of these efforts is the collection of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for hospitals, law enforcement and fire/EMS personnel — something Howell calls an “ongoing concern.”

“We are receiving donations here and hospitals are receiving donations,” she said. “We are asking the community to please continue that.”

Howell said first responders are planning for increased call volumes as well as scenarios in which personnel would be absent due to illness. She said they’re asking COVID-19 screening questions on 9-1-1 calls, and she’s advising them to respond to every situation as if a person does have the virus.

Most recently, the health department coordinated with the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association to assess off-site facilities in the region that could be used for patients with minor medical needs should local hospitals become overwhelmed. The Dayton Convention Center was selected as a standby off-site facility.

The health commissioner also praised one part of healthcare that could especially help certain areas of the county.

“One shining star that we see is the use of telehealth,” Howell said. “We think that’s really important for rural communities who have no providers at all.”

Public Health is listening to other partners impacted by the pandemic, too, including social service agencies — libraries, shelters, and boards and councils serving the elderly, individuals with developmental disabilities or mental health needs, families and children.

“We have weekly teleconferences with them to see how COVID-19 is impacting at-risk populations,” Howell said. “The issues they face are pronounced … poverty, exacerbated behaviors, substance abuse, violence, are increased during this time.”

Howell said she has not seen an increase in overdose rates in the county.

Calls are also going out to other chambers, rotaries, cities and various community entities. But no matter who is on the other end of the line, one message remains the same.

“We should not so much as look at … what we can’t do, or the restrictive side, but what we need to be doing together as a community,” she said.

Going forward, Howell said the health department will continue to prioritize testing and distributing PPE, follow cases, perform contact tracing, and look for episodic outbreaks that may occur in nursing homes and other sheltered places. Nursing homes in the area have not been impacted so far, Howell reported.

“My message today would just be that we’ve proven before that we were resilient, we’ve proven before in the tornadoes that we can partner and do this and get it done,” she said, “and I know we are going to get it done.”
Health commissioner gives update to chamber

By Anna Bolton

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