MEDINA COUNTY, Ohio — While Lorain County and Summit County both dropped back to Level 2 on the state's public health advisory system this week, Medina County went red, moving to Level 3.
Leaders there are taking steps to try to control the spread and get things back normal.
The Medina County Health Department said its recent increase in COVID-19 cases is mainly from group gatherings, such as graduation parties and group travel.
"Some of the spread that we’re seeing is actually very inadvertent," said Krista Wasowski, Medina County Public Health Commissioner. "People who have come back and maybe thought they had a summer cold or had summer allergies, went and got tested and then found out they were positive."
She said the health department is urging people who have symptoms of COVID-19, "please just assume that’s what it is and isolate yourself from others around you."
In addition to wearing a mask, which is mandatory now across the state, Wasowski urged people to follow other recommendations as well.
"Social distancing, always washing your hands and wearing that mask, those are the things that we want people to do to help drive down the numbers, and to let our business stay open and let our schools return," Wasowski said.
She noted that health officials want residents to "take to heart that idea that you can put on something as simple as a mask when you go and interact with people in all different situations. Having that mask can help reduce that transmission from person to person."
Wasowski also urged those who are traveling and return to Medina County to "have a heightened self-awareness of how they’re feeling and what symptoms they may have, and when possible, stay in contact with people that you may have come in touch with, if you’re visiting family out of state. Stay in touch with them as well about how they’re feeling, cause that could be the first sign that there may be a spread of coronavirus."
While it is not mandatory to wear a mask if you are outdoors and are able to consistently social distance from other people, Wasowski encouraged people to have one with them anyway.
"You may be going out expecting maybe to sit in the park or to take a walk with your dog or to do something independent, even if you’re out at a park independently, but you may come up to someone that you do want to talk with, you want to stop and have a social time with," Wasowski said. "If you’re on the Square, you may want to stop, pop into a business to get a beverage or something, and you want to have your mask with you to be able to safely do that" and to be compliant with the statewide mandate.
Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell said prior to the statewide mandate, and prior to Medina County moving to Level 3, the county commissioners, health commissioner and leaders of the cities within the county came up with a campaign called "Mask Up, Medina."
"We did that because we were trying to keep from going red, which we just did [Thursday]," Hanwell said. "So it bought us two weeks, but it didn’t have the result we were hoping for, and that was not to go to red."
Hanwell said he believes Lorain County and Summit County's moves to orange, or Level 2, were the result of masks.
"In my mind, that’s a clear signal that the masks are helping," Hanwell said. "When more people in those counties wear [masks], you saw the numbers then constrict a little bit."
He added, "We’re just trying to protect not only the individual, but others. We’ve got folks working in the restaurants and the stores, and many of them may have young children with health needs, they may have older parents with health needs, so whatever we can do collectively to protect each other."
While he said he believes masks are "a big part of it," Hanwell noted he doesn't believe any one component by itself will work. Instead, he urged people to practice all the recommendations, including social distancing, frequent hand washing and disinfecting things.
"We disinfect City Hall after every single meeting, every chair, every table, we do the door handles, the grab handles, probably once an hour," Hanwell said, adding that City Hall remains closed to the public. "The more of that we do, we can help those germs from spreading and again, try to slow the spread."
Ultimately, Hanwell said he would like to see the county return to Level 1, not just Level 2, "and get it to where we might have sporadic cases, but it’s not the volume of cases that we’re seeing now, kind of the exponential growth."
Hanwell said that Medina City Council passed an ordinance in July for $5,000, which will be set aside to help local businesses provide masks to patrons coming in, "if patrons show up and don’t have one, but yet they would put one on if provided one."
"We’re doing what we can to help support the businesses, because if you tell them it’s a good idea to wear it but they can’t afford to buy it, then they’re struggling as it is trying to keep their businesses going," Hanwell said. "We thought this would be a good way to help."
One of the local businesses that will benefit from the ordinance providing money for masks is Cool Beans Cafe in Medina's Public Square. The owner, Laura Parnell Cavey, also owns the Honey Bee Bakery down the street.
"I’d like for us to all stay healthy, get through this and then come back stronger than ever," Parnell Cavey said.
It's a straightforward goal, but one that will take some work. Parnell Cavey said she and her workers have been wearing masks all along, as they worked during the shutdown with no customers inside the cafe. However, when they reopened, they weren't immediately requiring customers to wear masks.
"I had a few customers that are regulars [who] had said to me, 'You know, we’re uncomfortable coming in. We’ve noticed that a good portion of the people who are coming in are not wearing them,'" Parnell Cavey said.
About a week ago, she said they decided to require masks for customers and provide some to patrons who didn't have them.
Now, masks are mandatory statewide, as of Thursday evening, as well as in Medina County, because of its recent move to Level 3.
Parnell Cavey said she was thankful for the city helping out by setting aside money for masks for customers.
"Small businesses are hard-hit as it is," Parnell Cavey said. "So taking that cost off of us is a small thing, but it’s an important thing for us. Every little bit counts right now."
Parnell Cavey said she knows wearing a mask "has turned into a political situation." But, she added, "As a business owner, for me, it’s about that balance of keeping things open and keeping the business going and so forth. I need to do what I can to keep my employees safe, that’s the most important thing. Keep them safe, keep the customers safe and then keep the business going."
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