Thursday, August 13th, 2020
Enforcement rules set; 23 new cases
By Leslie Gartrell
CELINA - The Mercer County Health District clarified its COVID-19 enforcement guidelines on Wednesday as the county continues to see more cases.
Cases in the county topped 650 after 23 new cases were reported, according to a health district news release.
Health board members and county prosecutor Matt Fox and assistant prosecutor Amy Ikerd, who joined by phone, met in executive session Wednesday morning to discuss enforcement related to violations of state orders.
Although the district had enforcement policies in place, health administrator Jason Menchhofer said district officials decided to review the measures as district employees continue to receive complaints about COVID-19 violations and cases continue to increase.
The enforcement issues primarily concern the lack of social distancing at local businesses and public gatherings, according to a news release. District officials have tried to avoid heavy-handed enforcement. However, some businesses, groups, bars and restaurants continue to violate state orders and put the community at risk.
Health officials have begged residents for weeks to join a communitywide effort to control the spread of the virus to protect vulnerable family, friends and fellow community members. However, two new outbreaks tied to large gatherings may indicate that call for compliance has not been received.
Menchhofer on Wednesday said two new outbreaks had been declared after two weddings led to several infections. A July 27 wedding in Maria Stein has resulted in 10 cases, four of which involve Mercer County residents. An Aug. 1 wedding, also in Maria Stein, produced 13 cases, all of which involve Mercer County residents.
"As things have progressed, there have been businesses or groups that require enforcement," Menchhofer said. "We're seeing more issues and outbreaks, so now is the time for us to do something."
Board members after the executive session approved a motion that provides enforcement guidance for staff members.
Upon receiving the first complaint about a violation, health district staff will continue to contact the accused entity and educate those involved in what is required. Employees will investigate subsequent complaints in person with assistance from local law enforcement if needed, according to the release. Repeated violations will be documented.
When repeat violations occur in establishments with liquor licenses, employees will send documentation to the Ohio Investigative Unit. The unit is an Ohio State Highway Patrol division responsible for investigating and issuing citations for COVID-19 violations by businesses with liquor licenses.
One area bar and restaurant, Boardwalk Grill in Celina, has been visited by the OIU at least once and received a warning, Menchhofer said.
District officials continue to work with the prosecutor's office to determine enforcement approaches for other types of establishments, the release reads.
Employees are also developing a way to publicize violations, similar to the publication of inspection results for local food establishments on the district website.
"While the enforcement process can take some time, publication of documented violations on the website will give concerned citizens of Mercer County the information they need to make responsible decisions that are appropriate for them," the release reads.
Menchhofer said employees have held out against enforcement as a last resort. But 137 new COVID-19 cases so far this month, have created an increased sense of urgency.
The spread of COVID-19 has increased in the county in recent weeks, so much so that the county has been highlighted as a state hot spot and garnered statewide attention. The county had 231 confirmed cases in July alone - more than a third of all cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, Mercer County ranks No. 1 for the number of cases per population in the state. From July 28-Aug. 10, the county's rate has been 293.9 cases per 100,000 people.
With a population slightly above 41,000 and 650 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic, Mercer County has a rate of 1,585 cases per 100,000 people, making it one of the highest rates in the state.
The county has a positivity rate of 16.6%, more than three times the state average and more than three times the level the World Health Organization says represents a well-controlled situation.
The high positivity rate, or the rate of COVID-19 tests that are positive, is another indicator that Mercer County is experiencing immense exposure and spread of the virus.
Health officials in Wednesday's news release reported 650 confirmed cases, as well as 15 probable cases, 184 pending cases, 459 people who have recovered, 2,345 negative test results, six hospitalizations, 12 deaths and one probable death from COVID-19. Of the 650 confirmed cases, 178 are active.
Menchhofer said the high number of pending cases is likely the result of more people developing symptoms. Mercer Health, which has a drive-thru testing site in Celina, has started to tighten eligibility requirements because of an increase in testing, Menchhofer said.
"The increase in pending cases does not bode well," he said.
Residents who want to be tested but do not meet eligibility requirements can visit the ODH Testing and Community Health Centers page online to find other testing sites.
In Auglaize County, the county health department reported 19 new cases on Wednesday, raising that county's confirmed number of cases to 282.
Of the 19 cases, 12 involve females: one from the age of 10-20, two from 30-40, one from 40-50, one from 50-60, four from 80-90 and three from 90-100. A woman from the age of 80-90 is hospitalized, while the rest are self-isolating, according to a health department news release. The seven cases involving males, include two from 20-30, one from 40-50, one from 60-70, two from 70-80 and one from 80-90.
Department officials also reported 36 probable cases, 30 hospitalizations, 225 people who have recovered and six deaths from COVID-19.
The county health department also reported the number of cases by location since the beginning of the pandemic for the first time on Wednesday.
Of the 318 confirmed and probable cases, 134 have involved St. Marys residents, while 85 have involved Wapakoneta residents. Minster has reported 33 cases; New Bremen, 25; Cridersville, 21; Waynesfield, 11; Botkins, three; New Knoxville, three; New Hampshire, one; Uniopolis, one; and Lakeview, one.
As of Wednesday evening, ODH had reported 104,248 confirmed and probable cases in the state, 11,901 hospitalizations and 3,734 confirmed and probable deaths from COVID-19.
There were 23 new cases in Mercer County, 19 in Auglaize County.
Ohio cases 104,248
Ohio deaths 3,734
Mercer County cases 650
Mercer County deaths 12
Auglaize County cases 282
Auglaize County deaths 6