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Official alarmed by rise of virus cases

Mahoning health commissioner urges public to stay at home

YOUNGSTOWN — Ryan Tekac, Mahoning County health commissioner, urged the public Tuesday to “have a plan” to combat the increasing numbers of people becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus.

“We at the health department are concerned with the increasing numbers (of cases) in Ohio, as well as the tri-county area. And this means as a community, we need to be better at beating this virus,” he said at a Tuesday briefing.

“Any time you go into a battle, you need to have a plan in place in order to win and in order to save lives. Staying at home and avoiding large groups is not only protecting yourself but others in the community that can’t necessarily protect themselves, such as grandparents, infants, your neighbors, your friends who may have chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems.”

He said he is concerned that some of the businesses allowed to remain open are not doing enough to protect the public.

“We need to be smart about our choices and what is considered essential to us. So is that game of golf truly that important to us that you want to put yourself at risk or any loved ones at risk?”

SHOPPING

Tekac asked: “Is (going) shopping for items that are not essential to us truly that important over someone’s health?”

He said send only one person to shop for essential items in the store. “This isn’t the time to browse the store. Have a list, purchase what you need and try to buy for a whole week or longer if you can.”

He said one company has curbside pickup and is limiting store access.

“Some of the store chains that are considered essential must be part of the solution and adapt to temporary procedures … and start doing curbside pickup,” he said.

An employee at the Giant Eagle located at 476 Boardman Canfield Road in Boardman was confirmed to have COVID-19 on Sunday. The company’s website states that the last date known of the employee being inside the store is March 25. The store has been sanitized, the site states.

As confirmed cases of employees have been made public, Giant Eagle has listed the stores where employees have tested positive of the coronavirus, along with the most recent date the employee was in the store and when the case was confirmed. As of Tuesday afternoon, no other Giant Eagle employees in the area were confirmed to have the virus.

‘LOOK AT THE NUMBERS’

When Tekac was asked about indications that children are gathering with their friends, he said: “Parents need to be parents at this time. They need to keep their kids at home. They need to make sure they are not in the neighborhoods playing with other kids.

“Look at the numbers that we currently have in our community, the number of deaths,” he said, adding, “In a couple months, all these kids will be able to get back together and get back to normal lives.”

Officials from the coroner’s offices in Mahoning and Trumbull counties have said that they are not going to release the names of any of the people infected with the virus or those who have died.

One reason is the deaths are considered natural deaths and not coroner cases, said Theresa Gaetano, chief investigator for the Mahoning County Coroner’s office.

Kathy Meszaros, chief investigator for the Trumbull County Coroner’s office, said because they are not coroner cases, she doesn’t even know the names of the people who have died from the virus in Trumbull County.

Tracy Styka, public information officer for Mahoning County Public Health, said that office is not releasing the names of those infected because of privacy components of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Tekac said he knows people are going to spend more and more time outdoors as the weather improves, but he said to remember the guideline of staying at least six feet from another person must be maintained outside.

“I feel there is less fear when (people) are out and about, that they won’t contract it, but social distancing is what will truly slow the spread of this disease. If you go to the park and see it is busy, drive by and go someplace else.”

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