Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

Board members receive election day guidelines

Coronavirus concerns

By William Kincaid
CELINA - The coronavirus will probably make its way to Mercer County, however, residents should not give into fear, one county official said on Tuesday.
"We want to urge people to be prepared, and we want to be prepared as a health department and know that something could be coming that's worse than what we've got right now, but we're not running around saying 'the sky is falling,' either," Mercer County Health District Administrator Jason Menchhofer said.
Menchhofer briefed board of elections members about the coronavirus and suggested measures to prevent its spread at polling sites on Election Day.
"We've been trying here at the local level to put out the message that it's not just about this novel coronavirus. The flu virus still right now is a much bigger threat to us here locally than the coronavirus," he said.
Viruses in general can spread in numerous ways.
"The coronavirus, the flu virus, those respiratory viruses that we're particularly concerned with at this time of year … are spread through droplet transmissions," Menchhofer said.
The coronavirus appears to be spread primarily by droplet transmissions, typically through coughing, he noted.
"We will encourage frequent disinfecting of surfaces," he said. "But the higher probability of contracting that infection is going to be through the airborne droplet transmission at a distance of less than 6 feet."
Menchhofer recommended people minimize close contact with one another, frequently wash their hands and use hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol, cover coughs, clean and disinfect surfaces and stay home when sick.
He also spoke about the symptoms of the diseases, urging those who think they may be sick with coronavirus to call ahead rather than show up unannounced at urgent care, the emergency room or a doctor's office, to prevent exposing others to the sickness.
"What we're talking about right now, influenza and coronavirus, you're going to see potentially fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle and boy aches, fatigue, headaches," Menchhofer said. "One symptom that seems to be somewhat unique to the coronavirus is shortness of breath, difficulty getting your breath."
Menchhofer said he and other county health officials attended Gov. Mike DeWine's summit on coronavirus preparedness last week, where they heard from the U.S. Surgeon General via a video presentation. The surgeon general put the outbreak into perspective, noting at the time the number of national deaths from coronavirus was nine or 10.
"During the current influenza season there's been around 18,000 people who have died from the flu in the United States," Menchhofer told board members. "Yeah, this thing (coronavirus COVID-19) is new. There's some unknowns. We don't know for sure how it's going to behave, but there are other threats out there that are more serious to us right now because they're actually here in our community."
Elections board members on Tuesday agreed to enact several measures to prevent the spread of illness at polling sites on Election Day.
All voting locations will have hand sanitizer available for voters and elections officials, director Deb Sneddon said. Poll workers will regularly wipe down voting equipment with sanitizer, as well as sanitize pens, clipboards, door handles, tabletops and other surfaces.
"All poll workers have been instructed on procedures to follow on election day to minimize areas where virus transfer is most likely to take place and we are confident that every possible precaution will be taken to protect your safety," a news release reads.
The board also advised voters to take steps including minimizing socializing while waiting.
"Bring your own pen with which to sign in, and when you are asked for identification, hold it so that the poll worker can read it to verify your name and address and that your identification is still valid," the release sates. "If you pass your identification over to a poll worker, you may request that it be sanitized before it is handed back to you. Consider as well that if you are coughing or sneezing, that you wear a mask to minimize the risk of transmitting any virus; be it cold, flu or other."
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose urged Ohioans on Tuesday to take advantage of early voting opportunities available in person and by mail heading into the March 17 primary.
He also reminded voters they can still request an absentee ballot, but they must act quickly. Ohio's process requires printing out a ballot application and mailing it in, receiving the ballot by mail and getting it turned in or postmarked by Monday.
LaRose has ordered all 88 county elections boards to provide curbside ballot drop-off on Election Day. The boards also are working with local emergency management offices to ensure they have the sanitation supplies necessary to keep polling places safe and, if that fails, LaRose said his office will provide the funds to buy them.
DeWine declared a statewide emergency on Monday, after three cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Ohio. LaRose's order to move polling places located inside nursing homes also came on Monday, eight before the election.
Heeding LaRose's order, Auglaize County Board of Elections officials on Monday moved one polling location from Otterbein Cridersville to the Auglaize County Fairgrounds Junior Fair Building in Wapakoneta, for the Cridersville East and West precincts.
"Additionally, we encourage voters to take advantage of Ohio's ample early voting opportunities," board director Michelle Wilcox said in a news release.
- The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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