MANSFIELD -- There are no immediate plans to form a Richland County "COVID Defense Team," largely because county commissioners said Thursday morning they aren't sure who should be on it -- or what it should do.
Commissioners said they were also concerned such a new "team" would duplicate local efforts undertaken since the pandemic reached Ohio in March.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Oct. 29 called for each of the state's 88 counties to form such teams in response to a rising wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state.
"I'm asking the COVID Defense Team in each of our counties to assess and understand their situation, to inventory their assets in the community and to focus on what steps to take to turn the situation in their community around," the governor said.
"Because we now know what works to fight the virus, a major part of their job will to be to explain to people in the community exactly what is going on, the state of the virus, what's going on in their local hospitals," DeWine said.
Commissioners said Thursday they had no advance notice about the "teams" request and have not received many details about it since DeWine announced the plan during his bi-weekly press conference.
"We are working to get a better idea of what the governor is looking for," said Commissioner Marilyn John, who won election Tuesday night to represent the county in the Ohio House, beginning in January.
Since March, John has participated in weekly conference calls with local officials, including representatives from Richland Public Health, local hospitals, the two state prisons, schools, emergency management officials and more.
"I agree with (Commissioner Darrell Banks) that we don't need another team," John said. "As a county, we have done a pretty good job of meeting and communicating with one another."
Commissioner Tony Vero agreed and wondered what a local "COVID Defense Team" could do.
"We as a county and a board of commissioners don't have any legislative authority or enforcement authority to do anything. All of these (COVID-19 related) orders are state orders. Until we have some idea where the state is going, I am not sure what we are supposed to do," Vero said.
In making his announcement, the governor said members of each county's team should include county commissioners, mayors, hospital leaders, health commissioners, business leaders and religious leaders.
"They should be representative of the community," DeWine said
Vero said he was not surprised DeWine's office gave counties no advance notice that he would ask for the teams to form.
"That's what he has done for right months," Vero said, suggesting perhaps a member of the local business community be added to the group already meeting weekly.
"We have been doing this for so long now ... how many teams can we be on? People are getting 'teamed out,' so to speak. There is a certain level of frustration that we are eight months into this and now the governor says he wants each county to have a defense team," Vero said.
John said she did get a recent phone call from the governor and she expressed concerns with a lack of communication from his office and county governments.
"He acknowledge that he heard me and said he would work on that," said John, who said she remains concerned about how restrictions are impacting schools and students, some of whom are learning entirely remotely or in a hybrid format, including in-person and online.
"No one is saying this is not a real virus. But we have to acknowledge what sacrifices we are willing to make. At what point does the education of students become important?," John asked, pointing out examples she has learned of academic issues with online learning.
She cited an example of a fourth-grade teacher who told her that she was conducting an online class with students distracted by stuffed animals, live pets and more.
"These students were not learning anything," John said.