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COVID-19 claims two more in county
COVID-19 claims two more in Williams County; CHWC feels the pinch

Two more county residents have died from COVID-19, the Williams County Health Department reported Thursday.

The Health Department is reporting 914 cases, 63 hospitalizations and eight deaths, but those numbers did not include Friday’s data. Even without Friday’s data, there have been at least 161 new cases in the county in the past week and almost 400 new cases since Nov. 6, which has overwhelmed health department staff, Williams County Health Commissioner Jim Watkins said.

“The volume of cases is so high it’s out of control,” Watkins told The Bryan Times Thursday.

A similar situation appears to be going on at the state level, with the Ohio Department of Health posting a message saying it had technical issues with its COVID-19 dashboard, where it generally posts its daily statistics, and referring users to its main page for COVID statistics.

The ODH’s last update at 2 p.m. Friday reports 335,423 total cases in Ohio, with 23,958 hospitalizations and 5,955 deaths, though the ODA website also includes a note saying “the data is incomplete; thousands of reports are pending review.”

The ODH also is reporting more than 226,000 people are “presumed recovered.” That number is 377 in Williams County.

CHWC

The dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases around the state this month is being felt at Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers, which this month has seen its daily average number of Emergency Room visits for COVID-19 jump from about two a day to six per day.

CHWC reports it has admitted more COVID inpatients during the first three weeks of November than the entire nine months of the pandemic so far, including 11 COVID inpatients in the past few days. Three of those patients were admitted Friday, according to Chad Tinkel, president and CEO of Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers.

“Basically all those patients are very ill and they will not be discharged any time soon,” Tinkel told The Bryan Times Friday, updating his comments from those he issued in a prepared statement of talking points from Thursday.

Tinkel said the hospital is working to expand its available space from four to 15 beds dedicated to COVID patients.

“We didn’t exceed the need for our four designated COVID unit beds until this month,” Tinkel said late Friday, adding that most of CHWC’s 11 COVID-19 patients are elderly patients from local nursing homes.

“We are having to have these difficult conversations with patients and family members about their prognosis, and in some cases, end of life decisions, including DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders,” Tinkel said.

He noted that CHWC’s staffing resources are being strained, with about 25 direct patient care staff and providers out due to the recent community spread. CHWC is limiting the number of rehab inpatients admitted to Montpelier Hospital In order to transfer some Montpelier staff to CHWC—Bryan to care for the increasing number of COVID inpatients in Bryan.

Tinkel said a majority of the larger area hospitals are also experiencing issues with staffing and available beds, which he said is severely limiting CHWC’s ability to transfer out critically ill patients.

CURVE

Both the county health department and CHWC are asking the community to help “flatten the curve” by wearing masks in public settings; maintaining six feet of physical distancing; washing hands often and staying home when possible.

“These are challenging times. I’m concerned that with the numbers we’ve seen in the past few weeks, and it may get worse in the coming weeks,” Tinkle said Friday. He emphasized, though, that CHWC is utilizing precautionary measures to safely take care of patients and encouraged anyone who may have symptoms to seek care.

“We’re in this together and we’ll do everything we can to provide comprehensive patient centered healthcare to our community,” he said.


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Senate passes bill to limit ODH authority

The Ohio Senate passed a bill Thursday intended to limit the power of the Ohio Department of Health and Gov. Mike DeWine has promised to veto it.

The bill, known as Senate Bill 311, deals with the Ohio Revised Code section governing public health orders, quarantine and isolation.

The bill prevents action from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) or the director from being “general, mandatory statewide or regional” in terms of standing orders, quarantines and isolation for people “who have not been either directly exposed to or medically diagnosed with the disease or illness that is the subject” of the order.

It also allows the general assembly to rescind a special or standing order or rule issued by ODH through a resolution.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Rob McColley (R-1) of Napoleon.

“Throughout this crisis, the executive branch has been exercising legislative authority in an unprecedented manner,” McColley said in a statement to The Bryan Times. “While I do not question the governor’s motives, that is not how our government is supposed to work. SB 311 installs needed checks and balances and restores the natural separation of powers to our government so Ohioans can now have a greater voice through their elected legislators.”

The senate passed the bill on Thursday with a 58 to 32 vote. That same day, DeWine promised to veto the bill.

According to the state senate’s website, he has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to veto the bill. His veto can be overridden with a 3/5 vote of each house or 2/3 in certain cases.

In his statement, McColley anticipated the legislature would have the votes to override the veto.

During a press conference Thursday, DeWine said “all bills are well intended,” but this one is a “disaster” and would be “devastating.”

If it went into law, DeWine said it would remove the authority required to respond to this and future outbreaks.

For example, he said Ohio would not be allowed to quarantine a person who came from a country suffering an ebola outbreak, nor could they act quickly enough if a biological weapon was unleashed on Ohioans.

McColley called both those examples and more untrue on his Twitter page.

“This is not a bill that can become law,” DeWine added. “I have said throughout this pandemic that I would take advice, and have been taking advice, from medical and health experts.”

These experts have also told him the bill would be a disaster.

Medical professionals have expressed their opposition to the bill, including the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA), of which Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers is a member.

“We oppose the legislation because it restricts the ability of the Ohio Department of Health to issue mandates, like the one issued recently for the (10 p.m. to 5 a.m.) curfew, which we feel would allow the spread of the virus and further strain our resources,” CHWC President and CEO Chad Tinkel said Friday.

Tinkel also forwarded a letter signed by OHA, Ohio State Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Ohio Business Roundtable and the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association in opposition to the bill.

“While we are currently experiencing unprecedented increases in COVID-19 cases and new daily records of hospitalizations and ICU stays, we would urge that the Ohio Legislature rethink passing this legislation at this time,” the letter states. “As many know, one of the most concerning aspects of the COVID-19 disease is the ability for transmission to occur between parties unknowingly, and how individuals who are actually positive for COVID-19 can unintentionally spread the disease to others because they may not experience any symptoms.”

The organizations fear if ODH is limited to issuing orders only to people knowingly and directly exposed to a disease or diagnosed with it, then there would be millions of Ohioans who would be put at risk and their safety would be compromised.

The proposal would not help Ohio stem the rising COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and death occurring as a result of the pandemic, the organizations state in the letter.

“Tragically, over 5,700 Ohioans have lost their lives now due to COVID-19, and their loved ones face immeasurable loss. Now is not the time to let up,” the letter, dated Thursday, reads. “The public health crisis is not over, and making changes to the manner in which the state department of health issues orders to protect the health and well-being of Ohioans is not the right direction to go at this time, especially as spread of COVID-19 continues to accelerate. We need to stay the course, keep fighting and make sure we continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.”

Because a pandemic like this has not been seen in our lifetimes, the organizations state in the letter that actions “unfamiliar and perhaps even uncomfortable to us” are needed.


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COVID testing is available locally

With COVID-19 continuing to spread across the county, including more than 160 new cases this week alone, knowing where to go to get tested, and when, can be important.

According to a statement from Parkview Physicians Group, diagnostic testing is most appropriate for people with active COVID-19 symptoms, such as cough, fever, shortness of breath and others. At Parkview, a provider must determine if someone meets testing criteria.

Someone who thinks they need to be tested should first contact their primary care provider. The statement says it is important to always call ahead for any special instructions, such as where to go if testing is recommended. Response may take longer than normal.

Contact can be made through downloading the MyChart app on a phone or tablet or by contacting the FirstCare Walk-In clinic at 419-633-5528. The Parkview Health Access Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-877-PPG-TODAY.

Testing turnaround varies on the type of test, the statement says. Point-of-care testing, also known as rapid or antigen testing, can be available within a few hours while other diagnostic tests are sent to an outside lab that could take a couple of days.

In an email, Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers President and CEO Chad Tinkel said community members with acute symptoms requiring emergency services can go to the emergency department in Bryan or Montpelier. The emergency room physician would then evaluate and decide what tests to order.

People can also contact their primary care physician.

The Bryan Community Health Center, 228 S. Main St., also offers COVID-19 testing. Those interested can call 419-549-8870, according to the website. The local center can also be reached at 567-239-4562.


Local
USGS updates group on local aquifer study

Earlier this year, the United States Geologic Services began the process of siting test wells and collecting data from the aquifers in northwest Ohio, northeast Indiana and southern Michigan.

Wednesday, USGS Hydrologist Alex Riddle gave a PowerPoint overview of the project to date to members of the Ohio Michigan Indiana (OMI) Council of Governments, which met online, and for the first time since August. The group meets on an as-needed basis.

Riddle said the project, which began earlier this year, is focused on a combination of converting old wells and drilling new wells to serve as monitoring and real-time data collection wells. He said thus far, three existing wells — two in Williams County and one in Defiance County — have been converted from unused wells to monitoring wells, with four more to be dug in the area in the coming weeks or months.

Riddle said the aim of the USGS project is to prepare scientific modeling by using the wells to collect data on the various features of the aquifer, such as depth, conductivity and structure.

The OMI includes representatives from Williams, Defiance, Fulton, Steuben, Lenawee, Branch and Hillsdale counties in the tri-state area. It began meeting earlier this year in the wake of the controversial proposed project by Artesian of Pioneer to drill into the local aquifer as a possible source of water for various mostly governmental entities in Henry, Fulton, Lucas and Wood counties.

The AOP project was put on hold in late 2019 when most of those entities joined the Toledo Water Commission. AOP’s founder and president is Ed Kidston, also mayor of Pioneer.

But the proposed project, and the lack of scientific data available on the aquifer, spurred legislation spearheaded by local State Rep. Jim Hoops and State Sen. Rob McColley to bring the USGS into the picture, along with $500,000 dedicated to a project to study the tri-state aquifer (which was commonly if erroneously called the Michindoh Aquifer) over the next two years.

Hoops has said one reason the USGS took a role in this issue over the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is because the USGS can work across state lines.

Attending the meeting Wednesday were Williams County Commissioner Brian Davis; Defiance County Commissioner Ryan Mack, Lenawee County (Mich.) Commissioner Mike Hard; Hillsdale County (Mich.) Commissioner Mark Wiley; Branch County (Mich.) Commissioner Bud Norman; Steuben County (Ind.) Commissioner Lynne Liechty; and Riddle, Rob Darner and Neal Mathes from the USGS.

On Thursday, Davis told The Bryan Times the USGS project is the good thing that came out of the heated and controversial AOP drilling proposal, in which it was revealed that no comprehensive data is available on the tri-state aquifer.

“(The study is) in the very early stages, but I was impressed with the data that they did produce in such a short period of time so far. It’s very educational ... I think it helps us understand this series of underground aquifers better ... It’s such an important natural resource that we don’t know much about yet,” Davis said.

Also Wednesday:

• Wiley advised the group that he and Davis had put together a grant application that was submitted about a week ago to the State of Michigan. Davis said it is similar to the one that is funding the current work in Ohio, requesting $500,000 to be used for testing the aquifer in Michigan. Wiley said the application was received, but there has been no decision to date on whether the grant will be awarded.

• The OMI members Wednesday approved officers for 2021. They are: President: Wiley; Vice President: Davis; Secretary: Mack; Treasurer: Liechty.


Local
Santa parade canceled amid COVID spike

The Santa parade scheduled for Nov. 27 in Bryan has been canceled due to the sudden recent spike in local COVID-19 cases.

The Bryan Area Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the parade with The Bryan Times, made the announcement late Thursday.

“Out of concern for the community’s health and welfare, a collective decision has been made to cancel the Santa Arrival Parade,” according to a statement from Chamber Executive Director Dan Yahraus.

Williams County as of late Friday is reporting nearly 1,000 cases and eight deaths. There have been 161 new cases in the county in the past week and almost 400 new cases since Nov. 6.

There are at least 326,615 total cases in Ohio, with 23,560 hospitalizations and 5,890 deaths.

Santa Claus had been set to arrive in downtown Bryan via his sleigh the evening of Nov. 27, though due to COVID-19, Santa was not exiting his sleigh in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Yahraus said with COVID spiking, the threat to the community’s health was too great, and the parade had to be canceled.

He said the decision to cancel was “a collective decision among community leaders,” including the health department, chamber and business leaders and City of Bryan officials.

“It’s important for us right now to try to do everything we can to just stay healthy,” Yahraus said.


Local
Spangler Candy acquires Bit-O-Honey

Spangler Candy Company has acquired Bit-O-Honey.

Spangler Candy Company on Friday announced the acquisition of Bit-O-Honey.

Spangler Chairman and CEO Kirk Vashaw said Bit-O-Honey is a perfect fit for Spangler and the brand is as storied as the Bryan company’s famous Dum-Dums lollipop brand.

“Bit-O-Honey is a perfect addition to the Spangler family of brands. Its history and nostalgic appeal blend perfectly with our existing brands, including Dum-Dums, Sweethearts, Necco Wafers, Saf-T-Pops, Spangler Circus Peanuts and candy canes.

Bit-O-Honey first appeared in 1924 — the same year as Dum-Dums — made by the Schutter-Johnson Company of Chicago. Bit-O-Honey is known for its soft, taffy texture and its real roasted almonds and honey ingredients.

Bit-O-Honey endured a variety of ownership changes between 1969 and 1983, when it was brought under the umbrella of the Nestle Company. In 2013, Nestle sold Bit-O-Honey to Pearson’s Candy Company of Saint Paul, Minnesota, which has now sold the brand to Spangler.

Spangler eventually hopes to manufacture the Bit-O-Honey brand at its West Campus location, the former location of ARO Corporation and Ingersoll-Rand, next door to and separate from the main factory on North Portland Street.

This could bring an additional 40 jobs to the community; however, Vashaw acknowledges a significant challenge that must be overcome before that can happen: multiemployer pension reform.

“Every new job that we add in Bryan comes with a significant liability that goes to pay for pensions of people whose employers have gone bankrupt,” Vashaw said. “Spangler leaders have been actively involved for years in pressing Congress to resolve this fundamental unfairness that hurts local jobs. There have been positive signs that a resolution may be possible soon. We are hopeful Congress will resolve this issue as it is a factor in determining whether Spangler can move the Bit-O-Honey brand to Bryan.”

“Some improvements have been made to the Spangler West Campus, but there is still a lot of work to be done to bring it up to food grade standards,” Vashaw added. Spangler purchased the West Campus property in 2018 from New Era Ohio LLC.

For the time being, Bit-O-Honey will continue to be manufactured in Minnesota, so there will be no interruption in service to customers and consumers. Spangler plans to begin shipping Bit-O-Honey from the Bryan facility by Jan. 1, 2021.

Spangler Candy Company has been family-owned and operated in Bryan since 1906. Under its Dum-Dums flagship, it is one of the largest lollipop producers in the world and the only major candy cane producer in the United States.