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County’s COVID-19 team holds town hall

FROM DIFFERENT ANGLES — Several health professionals and community leaders in the Jefferson County Health Department’s COVID Defense Team discussed various aspects of the pandemic at a town hall meeting Wednesday. Among them were, from left: Dr. Patrick Macedonia, a member of the Jefferson County health board; Jim Middleton, chief nursing officer for Trinity Health Systems; Clark Crago, director of the TEMS Joint Ambulance District and also a health board member; and Dr. Matthew Colflesh. (Photo by Warren Scott)

STEUBENVILLE — Medical professionals and community leaders on the Jefferson County health board’s COVID Defense Team discussed various aspects of the pandemic, from the availability of vaccines to the coronavirus’ impact on people being treated for other health problems, at a town hall meeting Wednesday.

It came following the department’s announcement it has received 400 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Administered in two doses, 28 days apart, the vaccine is to be made available to health care workers and other personnel routinely involved in caring for COVID-19 patients, emergency medical service staff and staff, patients and residents of veterans and nursing homes, assisted living facilities, psychiatric hospitals, veterans homes and group homes serving people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness.

Dr. Mark Kissinger, the health department’s medical director, noted the doses are a small fraction of about 650,000 doses coming to Ohio, with several thousand needed for the first group alone.

He said the next group eligible for vaccinations will include an estimated 48 million people, including people age 75 and older not in nursing homes or other facilities, first responders other than the EMS personnel and teachers, employees of the food industry and certain other workers with frequent contact with the public.

Kissinger said the next group includes an estimated 150 million people who are 65 to 74 or have high-risk medical conditions.

Plans call for the vaccine to become available to the general public later in the first quarter of 2021.

Kissinger said fast-tracking of the vaccine’s development didn’t expedite safety protocols for it, which actually entailed an additional four weeks of safety analysis, but helped to accelerate its production.

He said of about 300,000 people administered the vaccine, six had severe allergic reactions and all were successfully treated for them.

Kissinger said those with a history of severe allergic reactions should tell those administering the vaccine in advance.

“Ben Franklin said a penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s what we’re looking at with the vaccine,” Kissinger said.

Dr. Paul MacDonald, a pediatrician with Family Medical Care of Wintersville, was asked about the virus’ effect on children.

He said children can get and spread the virus though they often have mild or very few symptoms themselves.

But MacDonald cautioned that about 1.5 percent of American children diagnosed with COVID-19 have been hospitalized and 162 have died. He said most of the fatalities were linked to a chronic health condition, though that included obesity.

MacDonald said parents should contact their children’s healthcare providers if they have a fever, sore throat, severe headache and especially if they have difficulty staying awake or breathing, rapid breathing and a bluish face or lips.

He said since children have been wearing masks and encouraged to distance socially and practice good hygiene, he’s seen fewer sore throats and ear and upper respiratory infections. He said that indicates to him such measures have helped to prevent spread of other disease as well as COVID-19.

Clark Crago, director of the TEMS Joint District Ambulance Service, said unfortunately, the pandemic has an adverse effect on many older residents who may have delayed treatment for health problems because of the virus.

Crago said in March, when the pandemic received much local attention, local ambulance services saw a 25 to 30 percent drop in emergency calls.

He said that may have been because people didn’t want to overwhelm the healthcare system or were concerned they could be exposed to COVID-19 in hospitals because what followed was “the busiest year of cardiac arrests and in-home deaths in our area.”

Crago stressed emergency medical personnel wear masks and take other steps, including screening patients for possible COVID-19, to keep themselves and their patients safe.

Dr. Matthew Colflesh, president of the medical staff at Trinity Medical Center, said in recent months the emergency room there and at other local hospitals have seen fewer patients for heart problems.

“There were fewer admissions but the outcomes were far worse,” he said, adding the importance of seeking immediate attention for other health issues “can’t be stressed enough.”

Colflesh said in addition to employing various measures to keep the facilities sanitary, “We separate COVID-19 patients from the rest of the hospital population.”

MacDonald also urged parents to maintain routine checkups and vaccinations for their children and seek treatment when they are ill.

“Don’t delay seeking care for your child because your are concerned about spread of COVID-19,” he advised.

Also participating in the meeting were: Dr. Patrick Macedonia, a board member who served as moderator; Chuck Kokiko, superintendent of the Jefferson County Educational Service Center; Dr. Kenneth Woods, a specialist in infectious disease; Jim Middleton, chief nursing officer at Trinity Health Systems; and Tricia Maple-Damewood, executive director of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

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