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A shocking overreach

To the editor:

I am glad to call the Midwest my home these last 20 years where people are reasonable and sane. The reports from my family about the hysterical ways communities in New York and Washington, D.C., are handling COVID-19 are simply awful.

Six months in, the science has confirmed that lockdowns were unnecessary and harmful, young people have no risk and even those ages 50-64 have only a one in 19.1 million chance of dying from the virus. Further, it is obvious that many people in Jefferson County only loosely observed the restrictions — not distancing, avoiding gatherings, or wearing masks, still traveling — and they’re not seriously sick or leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Sadly, this virus attacks only the most vulnerable — the elderly and those with multiple serious conditions. But we can protect them without unreasonably restricting everyone else.

And yet, with only four deaths during six months, and our hospitals never close to being overrun, restrictions have not been relaxed and there is an atmosphere of fear in many local business and schools that if we don’t “mask up” the non-vulnerable, the Jefferson County Health Department is going to shut things down.

While it is the job of the health department to gather and share information and support community strategies to promote health, policy must balance the considerations of individual rights, the social and emotional health of the community and the importance of education and our economy — health suffers when people lose their business, can’t work, can’t shop, are deprived of education and remain isolated.

Wearing masks must be completely optional — there are so many real harms that come from wearing them no one should be forced, especially children.

Our students are muffled and distracted, and instructors are wasting time on pointless protocols. Businesses are pouring money and hours into jumping through unnecessary hoops and took huge losses this spring and summer. Community traditions were destroyed. And people have been terrorized by misleading statistics so they are not spending time with loved ones or patronizing businesses.

With Health Commissioner Nicole Balakos gone, now is the time to recognize restrictions from the state were too harsh and unnecessary. Damage has been done, and this needs to stop. We need a public servant sensitive to the needs of the whole community, one who makes everyone feel supported in health, not afraid of penalties.

Now is the time to allow individuals, businesses and institutions to assess their own risks and provide reasonable accommodations as they see fit.

Gov. Mike DeWine will be called to account for the shocking overreach of his powers. Our new health commissioner must care more for the actual needs of our local community than dictates from an out-of-control state office. We must not select a commissioner who will continue to place unnecessary burdens on our community, but instead one who will advocate for us.

Laura Sarilla

Steubenville

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