Mahoning County Health Officials Investigating State's Highest COVID Rate
Health officials in Mahoning County are investigating the state’s highest rate of coronavirus infection and say it’s too early to know why it’s happening.
The Youngstown area has 77 cases for every 100,000 residents. Cuyahoga County has the highest number of confirmed cases overall, with 589 as of April 1, but is also more populated and has an confirmed infection rate of 47 per 100,000 residents.
Mahoning County also has 10 confirmed deaths, the most of any Ohio county.
James Kravec, chief clinical officer for Mercy Health hospital in Youngstown, said the hospital system there is ready for the expected surge in acute coronavirus cases.
“This is what we do, as far as planning,” Kravec said. “And we have been meeting since mid-January, knowing this was coming.”
That extra time allowed them to start conserving personal protective equipment and open up extra beds, Kravec said. The first confirmed case of coronavirus in the United States was announced on Jan. 21. The first confirmed cases in Ohio were made public March 9.
But Kravec said it’s too early to tell why the Youngstown area is being hit so hard.
“At this point, I don’t have a good answer,” he said. “I’ve read speculation, different reasons, but I don’t think there’s anything I’m comfortable hanging my hat on yet as far as why.”
Just based on driving to work and the grocery, he said it doesn’t seem to him like people are ignoring the state’s stay-at-home order.
Others aren’t so sure. Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene posted a video Tuesday with a “very strong reminder” to people to stay at home. It’s gotten more than 91,000 views on Facebook.
“I think people need to start taking this very seriously. Stay at home,” Greene said.
The county board of health’s investigation into the spread of the disease is only in its early stages. No clusters or specific events that accelerated the outbreak there, have been discovered yet, but the county has received more than a dozen complaints a day about nonessential businesses remaining open.
Mahoning County Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac said the county has sent out health inspectors, who normally inspect restaurants, to help with the investigation.
“We've trained them to help our nursing department to do our contact tracing as well,” Tekac said. “Close contact tracing is very similar to what a sanitarian or health inspector would do during a foodborne outbreak.”