Richland County courthouse

Richland County Courthouse

MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners learned Thursday afternoon about the county's unchanged COVID-19 "level" in the same manner as other county residents.

They watched Gov. Mike DeWine's 2 p.m. press briefing, which has become an almost daily televised affair since the pandemic began in March.

A few hours before the briefing, commissioners expressed frustration with a lack of information coming from Columbus, especially regarding the new color-coded Public Health Advisory System.

"It would be great if the Ohio Department of Health actually worked with and communicated with local health departments on this," John said, sarcastically adding it would be "greatly appreciated" if someone in DeWine's administration "actually listened and communicated with local governments."

DeWine announced Thursday that Richland County remained "orange," or level two, while Ashland, Crawford and Knox counties remained "yellow," or level one.

The governor did announce six more counties had reached "red," or level three, status this week, meaning masks become mandatory in public settings. Huron County, which was "red" last week, improved to "orange" this week.

None of the state's 88 counties have reached "purple," or level four, the governor said.

When DeWine announced the new county-by-county system July 2, he said Richland County was one of 28  "orange," or level 2 counties, meaning residents " face an increased risk of exposure and spread of the virus."

The governor has said officials will monitor seven indicators/criteria, such as new COVID-19 cases per capita, sustained increases in new cases, proportion of cases not found in congregate care, ER visits, hospital admissions and ICU usage.

John said Thursday morning she had spoken to Richland Public Health officials on Tuesday and reported they had not been told by the Ohio Dept. of Health which indicators had triggered the "orange" status in the county.

"I spoke with the (RPH) director of nursing and the health commissioner. They said they were going to look into it," John said, adding she had had not yet gained a response.

Commissioner Tony Vero said he had communicated with state Rep. Mark Romanchuk's office and that an assistant there learned the county last week had "triggered" three indicators -- sustained increase in new COVID-19 cases, a higher proportion of cases not found in congregate care settings and a sustained increase in hospital emergency room visits.

All three commissioners expressed frustration at the state's lack of communication with local governments since the pandemic began, especially since DeWine said the new county-by-county system would assist in local decision making.

"How is there local control when there is so much state control?" Vero said. "To say there is local control is an overstatement."

John said, "There has not been local control since day one. All we have are state hoops that local governments are being forced to jump through."

Vero said he looks at the state's data for Richland County every day. As of a couple of days ago, he said, there were 344 cumulative cases with 266 recoveries and five deaths.

"By my count, that means there are 73 active cases of COVID-19 in Richland County," Vero said, acknowledging there are likely asymptomatic cases in which residents don't know they have the virus. "That's less than 1 percent of the county's population."

John speaks to the county's two hospitals each Tuesday. She said this week the hospitals reported they had had 50 total hospitalizations since the pandemic began, including 18 patients who needed treatment in ICU.

"The hospitals are not overwhelmed. They have never been overwhelmed. Yet the the Ohio Department of Health is saying Richland County is on the verge of Level Three," John said.

Vero said, "To say we're close to triggering a higher label in the governor's color-coded system ... the data doesn't match."

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"