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Jefferson County DJFS hit by virus

STEUBENVILLE — The Jefferson County commissioners learned Thursday that the Department of Job and Family Services has been hit by COVID-19.

According to the commissioners, three employees of the department have contracted the illness.

The commissioners held a teleconference with department director Betty Ferron and Health Commissioner Nicole Balakos to discuss the matter and further precautions that can be taken within the department.

Balakos clarified current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health guidelines for quarantine and what classifies as exposure.

Local departments follow the guidelines from ODH.

Balakos said when there is a second case at the same location, that location is assigned an outbreak number, stating it is then considered “an outbreak or a cluster” by the health department.

According to Ferron, the office has been closed to the public for the past several weeks, the office has been sanitized regularly and 65 employees are currently working from home, with 13 still working in the office.

“There are very few people here in the building and the ones that are here are doing social distancing,” Ferron said.

After discussing the roles of those still in the office and the ability for more to work from home, the commissioners recommended that the number of employees in the office be reduced further to around five or six.

“(Job and Family Services) provides a vital service to a lot of people,” Commissioner Tom Gentile said.

“We are encouraging anyone within the state who can work remotely, to work remotely,” Balakos said. “If they can provide services remotely, there is no reason for people to be around other people if that can be done. That is what all business are being encouraged to do.”

Commissioner Dave Maple asked Ferron to follow up with the commissioners in regard to progress in enacting the guidance.

“We’re giving you guidance that, even those that are willing to come into work, if they can work from home … those efforts should be made,” Maple said.

Maple addressed concerns about the balance of getting the proper information out and personal privacy. The concerns were raised by Balakos during the call.

“We are in an environment of a declared federal and state emergency, we are telling people not to leave their houses, not to conduct their businesses, we have declared these emergencies,” Maple said.

“And, it is all for the betterment of public health, but, we have a reaction when (a job title is mentioned).

“I think it is ironic that we can shut down this whole world that we live in but we can’t say somebody’s work position.”

Maple had discussed the challenges balancing the information prior to the call.

“It’s got to be rough for people from the board of health, the health commissioners and people in our roles to balance that,” he said.

“But, I feel like it’s balanced a little bit too much in favor of not giving that information. I think some of this information is important to be shared so people are aware.”

“It’s all uncharted water,” Gentile said. “No one has a blueprint.”

Gentile also noted the conversation made him feel more comfortable about the situation and the steps being taken.

The commissioners approved a PRC amendment that allows the Job and Family Services department to give PRC funds of up to $500 to eligible families that have lost employment related to the COVID-19 pandemic to assist with rent, mortgage, utility bills, vehicle payments and insurance.

A memorandum also was approved to be signed by Commissioner Thomas Graham for an Addendum to the health insurance policies for county employees who are enrolled in the county’s insurance plans. The changes waive deductibles, co-pays and cost sharing for COVID-19 testing, and waive cost sharing for outpatient services, emergency department services, nursing facility services, domiciliary, rest home or custodial care services, home services or online digital evaluation and management services in relation to the virus.

“(Graham’s) involvement with our health insurance has benefited a lot of our employees over the years,” Maple said.

The changes will stay in effect until the state of emergency is lifted by the federal or state government or a determination is made by the plan administrator.

The commissioners also approved an additional $30,000 from the emergency fund for the county Emergency Management Agency to make additional purchases of personal protective equipment. Combined with previously approved measures, the commissioners have now authorized a total of $50,000 for the EMA’s response to the pandemic.

County maintenance supervisor Patrick Boyles appeared at the meeting to discuss the sanitation precautions being taken at county buildings.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep the virus out of the buildings,” Boyles said.

The commissioners approved annual payment for services from the County Risk Sharing Authority.

In doing so, Graham made note that CORSA had recently reached a memorandum of understanding with the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.

“I’m happy to report that the friction between CCAO and CORSA, they have reached a memorandum of understanding and are trying to work together and will continue to work together,” Graham said. “Both entities are trying to put their differences aside. That is good news.”

The commissioners also awarded two contracts for projects for the engineering department.

A contract for the county Road 17 slip repair project was awarded to Ohio-West Virginia Excavating. The bid was for $124,286.50.

A contract for the county Road 75A bridge replacement project was awarded to Border Patrol. The bid was for $248,929.50.

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