PREBLE COUNTY — Preble County Public Health (PCPH) Commissioner Erik Balster met with the Preble County Commissioners during their meeting on Monday, March 16.
Balster began by giving the board an update on COVID-19. He told commissioners the same thing he would tell friends and family — the concern behind the novel virus is because it is new and unpredictable. It can be compared to influenza in prevention methods, but it is not the flu.
“There is no vaccine, no specific treatment, and there won’t be for at least a year. It has caused severe respiratory illness and death in thousands across the world. With that said, thankfully, it has a relatively low mortality rate overall compared to common illnesses. It spreads rapidly — we know community spread is happening,” Balster said.
He added, the canceling and closing of places like schools and restaurants is to reduce the strain on health facilities — allowing the medical system to “bend and not break.”
“You don’t need to decide you need the test [for COVID-19], your doctor will,” he finished.
He also addressed how quickly the news is changing and described his speech as the “March 16” update.
Balster had been getting a lot of questions on the order to close bars and restaurants, which happened the day prior to the meeting. He encouraged the commissioners and all present to still shop at places which are open, since carryout is still an option.
“From a public health standpoint, we strongly encourage people to get carryout from restaurants, because there is no inherent risk. The food service workers we inspect are still taking proper precautions. If we can give any advice to the public here in this county, it would be to support your local businesses and keep getting carryout, because there’s really nothing wrong with that,” Balster said.
Environmental Director Josh Lucas added, the goal of the directive was to keep people from “congregating” together in large groups, as another way to prevent transmission.
Commissioner Chris Day asked Balster for any recommendations on how to handle a large building such as the Preble County Courthouse, as the commissioners continue to discuss if they should limit hours or even potentially close the historic building.
Balster said, “Keep things regularly sanitized — high traffic areas like handrails, drinking fountains, handles, and doors. Seeing that, walking in here, is very reassuring.”
He and First Response Planner Suzy Cottingim also provided the board with flyers to post on the courthouse, recommending hand washing and other basic hygiene tips.
“In a building like this, the big thing is good hygiene, keeping a distance — I wouldn’t hold any big parties in the building for the next two or three weeks,” Balster said.
He explained, there is changing guidance with schools, but the commissioners could take advice from what school districts are doing — in that, they are requiring essential staff to still work in the building, with students at home to limit the spread.
However, as long as the general public is being cognizant of following basic guidelines, he would not recommend closing the building or take any like action at this point.
He also provided the board with a workbook which would help them determine essential personnel, in case of an emergency. The commissioners asked for copies to distribute to department heads, so they could have a complete record of all essential personnel and duties in the courthouse.
Following the meeting with PCPH, the commissioners discussed the letter previously sent to them from Job and Family Services Director Becky Sorrell. In her letter, she asked if her employees should use sick or vacation leave in specific situations, including if they had a compromised immune system or had a family member with a compromised immune system.
Commission President Denise Robertson mentioned this situation could be eligible for FMLA. She then asked if they should stick to their typical policy, which states vacation should be used unless an individual is sick.
“Is that the way we’re going to handle this?” she asked. Commissioner Day responded in the affirmative.
He said, “It should be handled like it always typically has.”
“It’s vacation first, if they’re not sick. We’re going to go with our standard policy, for now,” Robertson verified, agreeing to get in touch with Sorrell.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH