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Spike in positive COVID-19 cases prompts new concerns

Marietta City Schools will return to student separation via cohort next week, with Cohort 1 attending class in person and both Cohorts 2 and 3 attending virtually. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Confirmed cases of coronavirus jumped by 36 new reports between Wednesday and Thursday in Washington County, the most recent expansion of the 221 new cases reported in the county within the last two weeks.

With those cases including students and staff within Marietta City Schools, the district has reverted to cohort splits for the remainder of the school semester.

“We had two (confirmed cases) at the high school (Wednesday), two students … not connected,” said MCS Superintendent Will Hampton. “Two individual cases that have impacted a number of students and teachers.”

In the past two weeks, the district had combined Cohorts 1 and 2 into classrooms on campus, still keeping all students remote on Fridays.

“But the last month really changed some things,” added Hampton. “We were able to bring a few kids back from (fully) remote (Cohort 3) and assign them to an on-campus cohort, so that if we did go back they would know their cohort schedule.”

Hampton explained that in order to keep the most updated information on which buildings are impacted by confirmed cases of the virus, he has added a dashboard on the school’s website.

The dashboard will strictly count cumulative confirmed cases, he said, since the district is not staffed to provide greater detail, since it is also experiencing a need for substitute teachers and classified staff.

“You have your regular illnesses and absences of teachers, thrown in with quarantining of teachers and we’re running out of subs and ways to cover people in classes,” said Hampton. “So if we can reduce the number of people who are going to be quarantined we might be able to keep more of our staff in the buildings.”

* State guidance

On Thursday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine also warned that now with all Ohio counties classified as “high incidence” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the former color-coding Ohio Public Health Advisory System won’t be nearly as useful for the everyday citizen.

Previously, the state encouraged review of that advisory system before choosing where and when to go about business, travel and visit loved ones.

But the governor and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted did offer more resources in their Thursday briefing.

DeWine announced a new guide for tracking localized case counts by zip code within the state, while the lieutenant governor called on small businesses within rural counties of Ohio to take advantage of available and still unused funding from the Small Business Relief Grant.

The program provides $10,000 grants to small businesses with at least one but no more than 25 employees to help pay for mortgage, rent and utilities; salaries, wages or other compensation; supplies and equipment.

“We set aside $500,000 per county so that every county got a chance to participate,” said Husted. “We have a few counties that haven’t used up their 50-company allocation.”

Of the 13 counties named, eastern, and southeastern counties included Harrison, Noble, Monroe and Morgan counties.

“In these counties, there’s still money available,” said Husted.

* Local feedback

Marietta College President Bill Ruud announced to Marietta Noon Rotary on Thursday that the institution has applied to be a center for vaccination distribution when a public distribution is available.

Ruud also confirmed that he was aware of the Marietta College Physician Assistant professor who is responsible for both instruction of physical examination courses and coordination of clinical medicine courses at the college that had advocated against the use of masks directly to the Times on Wednesday when DeWine increased restrictions on businesses to include enforcement.

Ruud is also vice-chairman of the Southeast Ohio Port Authority board.

Southwest Ohio Port Authority Director Jesse Roush said Thursday his publicly available social media comments Wednesday regarding the removal of the governor via vote didn’t represent his professional capacity.

“For my professional capacity, I think two things will be evident, I think we saw that early on and one of those is people voting with their dollars,” Roush explained. “People that are opposed to mask ordinances and the rules will make decisions not to go into establishments that are mandating or that are forcing them.”

Placing the burden of enforcement on the business owner was a shared concern both of Roush and that of Marietta antique shop owner Jennifer Sturgill on Thursday.

“How am I to enforce it,” she asked. “I don’t know what their medical things are. What, you can’t shop in my store because you have a medical problem that prevents you wearing a mask? … Amazon is going to be thrilled.”

Sturgill owns Green Acres of Marietta on Front Street and commiserated with fellow Rotarians on Thursday, also questioning the efficacy of masks.

“I feel like the businesses I talk with are doing their level best,” said Marietta-Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Deana Clarke. “But from day one we’ve been told to try to get (customers) to wear masks. So now do you have to say wear a mask or you can’t come in?”

Sturgill and Clark were left with more questions about consequences for businesses that reach a third violation, and worried about the impact on small businesses already struggling to keep their doors open this year.

“It places people in compromising positions no matter which side of the spectrum you fall,” said Roush. “As somebody who’s been tasked with representing and supporting businesses, I think particularly on a Washington County perspective … (small business owners are) terrified of confronting people who don’t want to conform. They’re terrified of missing somebody and having somebody spying on them and in essence telling on them by calling the retail compliance unit.”

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