Bryan Mayor Carrie Schlade said she wears a face covering mask because it’s proven to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and to protect her husband, children and city employees.

Bryan School Superintendent Mark Rairigh said he wears a mask to protect the nearly 2,000 students of the district, while Bill Martin said he wears a mask to help protect his 86-year-old father-in-law in Edgerton, and his parents in Defiance who are in their 70s.

“They are worth protecting,” said Martin, explaining why, in response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, he and a group of about a dozen local business and civic leaders have each taped short videos encouraging residents to follow protocols to prevent the spread of the virus in the Williams County community.

Martin, president of Spangler Candy Company, in Bryan, is coordinating the effort in partnership with the Williams County Health Department. It’s modeled on the call Oct. 29 by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who asked leaders of each county and community in Ohio create COVID-19 “defense teams” to vocalize their support for preventative protocols, such as wearing masks, and encourage efforts to prevent the spread of COVID in Williams County.

Daily new COVID-19 cases in Ohio has risen from 4,467 new cases per day on Nov. 8, to 7,618 new cases per day on Nov. 22, to 9,030 on Dec. 1. Williams County had just 3 COVID deaths on Oct. 15, and as of Tuesday has now recorded 12.

Martin kicked off the initiative with a video posted Nov. 24 on the health department’s Facebook page, and Schlade (Nov. 28) and Rairigh (Dec. 1) have followed with short videos — less than 2 minutes each — about why they wear masks, who they wear them for and encouraging the community to take the scientifically accepted steps to help curb the spread of COVID.

Martin and Williams County Health Commissioner Jim Watkins said the videos will be rolled out almost daily for the next week or two on the department’s Facebook page, at: https://www.facebook.com/williamscountyhealthdepartment/.

PREVENTATIVE

Encouraging efforts to prevent community spread is more important than ever to keep Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers from getting overwhelmed with cases, said Tom Turnbull, a local funeral director who taped a video with his son and fellow funeral director, Caleb, as part of the local COVID defense team.

“We don’t want to get to a situation where we are overwhelming our hospital and (staff). If they get sick, who will take care of us?” Tom Turnbull said.

CHWC has seen an increase in COVID patients from an average of two a day in the early stages of the pandemic, to 12 on Tuesday, said Chad Tinkel, CHWC President and CEO. He said more than two dozen staff have been affected by COVID and described the hospital’s current staffing situation as “thin.”

“We are having to utilize staff from other departments to take care of our in patients, which means reducing volumes in those other departments,” said Tinkel, adding CHWC has increased the number of its beds dedicated to COVID patients from four in the early stages of the pandemic, to 15 now.

Turnbull said he and his staff wear masks to protect both their clients and families, and their own families, and he added this perspective: The majority of funerals at his business this past weekend were people who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“Too many people don’t believe in masks. But we get calls every day that we’re going to have to reschedule funerals because family members had tested positive. A mask is a preventative measure,” said Turnbull.

Another participant in the video COVID defense team effort, Deb Clum, of Montpelier, agreed.

“I believe in following science. And wearing a mask is a simple thing we can do to prevent the spread (of COVID) in our community,” said Clum, a retired Bryan Schools teacher and former Montpelier School Board member.

“I do it because my patients are vulnerable,” said participant Andrea Miller, a dietitian at CHWC, who said her patients have underlying health issues — obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure — that make them vulnerable to the virus.

“We need to protect our most vulnerable ... if worn correctly, a mask does limit the spread. I think the point of the videos is to drive that home to people who doubt,” Miller said.

SPREAD

Martin said he sees evidence that masks work as they are required inside Spangler facilities and that most of the 20 or so COVID cases among Spangler staff members have come from community spread outside the business. There is virtually no spread among staff and workers from inside the building, Martin said, adding that other business leaders are telling him that’s also the case at their business.

“It’s coming from outside, from community spread. For the great majority, it’s not being spread inside the building among our employees,” Martin said. “And the truth is, there’s not enough hospital capacity to deal with what we’ve got. That’s why we want to get the word out ... we’re asking people to do the right thing.”

Schlade said she’s concerned about the effect COVID is having on small business, especially in Bryan.

“Small businesses locally are struggling and we want to make sure they stay open, they stay strong. People shouldn’t be afraid to go to the store or go out and have a meal.

“COVID-19 is highly contagious. The scientists have told us what works. So we need to slow down the spread so we can support our small businesses,” Schlade said.

Rairigh said Bryan students and staff are required to wear masks, and as a result, thus far the school has continued to engage in in-person learning, rather than going to remote learning or a blended remote/in-person model.

“Schools are a reflection of community spread. If the community does their part to slow the spread, we know we’ll be able to keep the effect in the school to a minimum.

“We’ve had great buy-in (for mask wearing) ... and that’s allowed us to remain on in-person learning,” Rairigh said.

Watkins said he appreciates the videos and the efforts of the COVID defense team.

“I think the community is going to have to decide what we want. Are we going to work together as a community to get the numbers (of cases and deaths) down? Masks and the other preventative measures are something we can do to lower the number of cases,” Watkins said.

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