COVID defense teams: Stakeholders in local, rural counties combat spread of coronavirus

Coronavirus-related crimes capitalize on global fear, panic
Posted at 7:25 PM, Nov 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-17 20:54:57-05

In late October, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all 88 counties to create “COVID defense teams” made up of health officials, local lawmakers, business owners, faith leaders, and more. Together, teams were to assess the spread, and slow it, in their county.

Health officials in six area counties say not much has changed since the governor’s announcement, as they already had teams in place since the start of the pandemic. The only real difference now is in the increase in cases.

RELATED: DeWine called for local 'COVID defense teams.' Hamilton County already has one.

William Hablitzel, Health Commissioner of the Adams County Health Department, said his county has seen a “dramatic increase” in coronavirus cases over the past two weeks.

“Of course it’s a concern, because it’s showing how widespread the infection is, even in a small county like Adams County,” Hablitzel said.

The latest data show 586 total cases there, but it’s at a rate of 754 cases per 100,000 people. That’s higher than any other Southwest Ohio county.

“We didn’t see as much infection early on, but it’s caught up with us,” Hablitzel said.

That rise is why DeWine asked every county to create a “COVID defense team” at the end of October to track, assess and respond to changing local trends.

“Most of us have been doing something like this back from February, March,” Hablitzel said.

As have health departments in Clermont, Hamilton, Warren and Highland counties. Still, Hablitzel believes the concept, though already in place, has value moving forward.

“I think it is a positive. It reminds us of the importance of that communication and also reminds us to look at, are there other agencies that maybe we need to involve more?” he said.

In neighboring Brown County, Health Commissioner Kyle Arn said the governor’s October order hasn’t made much of a difference. Regular stakeholder meetings started back in March.

“Nothing has really changed except increase in numbers and discussing that,” Arn said.

The county's biggest rise in cases seems to be happening in November. If anything, he said the COVID defense team order is a reminder.

“It might have been a point that the governor made that if one was not established, it would be a good thing to establish,” he said. “I would assume most counties have some type of team… because that’s really the only way that you’re going to communicate with the other entities in the county.”

How other local counties respond to COVID-19

Clermont County Emergency Management, county commissioners, local school leaders, Mercy Health officials and other agencies have been meeting to plan a COVID-19 response since March.

“With the announcement of the COVID Defense Teams and the increase in cases we are seeing, we have refocused our groups’ efforts. We will begin meeting weekly, starting this week,” read a statement from Clermont County health officials. "We have invited more community leaders, including some from the private sector, and some faith-based organizations, who can assist."

Warren County Health Commissioner Duane Stansbury said his county has been working with many partners since the onset of the pandemic.

“As different partners have been (impacted), more or less, they flex in and out of participation. We will continue to work with them,” Stansbury wrote in an email to WCPO.

Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner said their response also began in March, meeting with the county’s local emergency operations center since the pandemic arrived in Ohio. With participation from hospitals, county commissioners and law enforcement, Highland County has had a smaller version of DeWine’s COVID defense teams for a while, Warner said.

Highland County has seen 815 total cases of COVID-19, with its highest day (28 cases) on Oct. 26.