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Despite shortfalls, momentum building in battle vs. COVID-19

The number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations have been on the decline our region and across Ohio.

Vaccinations are being distributed more briskly, pharmaceutical companies are continuing to perfect new vaccine options and, hopefully, the economy will follow with an upward trend. Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine agreed it was time to remove the curfew that had businesses — particularly bars and restaurants — closing at 10 p.m. for many months. That should have been done sooner.

A nod of appreciation for local health outlets such as the Columbiana County Health District. We have heard nothing but praise for the efficiency of that group in providing vaccinations at the fairgrounds. All done with a gentle “bedside.” You might have seen some letters to editor we have published recently attesting to the kindness local residents have received when getting vaccinated.

Indeed, the signs have been encouraging.

Last week, DeWine pointed out that the state has “really tamped down the fire in nursing homes,” contributing to a reduction in the state’s daily hospitalized population.

On Thursday, for instance, 1,862 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Ohio hospitals. For comparison, Ohio Department of Health data shows that number was 2,251 on Feb. 4; and 2,705 on Jan. 29.

Because about half of all hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 occur in people in long-term, shared living facilities like nursing homes, reducing the frequency of cases in nursing homes was key to reducing hospitalizations, DeWine said.

That caseload originating from Ohio nursing homes has seen dramatic decreases, DeWine said. For instance, during the week of Nov. 29, long-term care facilities had 2,697 cases. However, during the week of Jan. 17, there were 612, DeWine said, adding state health officials are “very, very happy with that.”

While all seems to be going well, we would be remiss if we did not note our disappointment in the recent egregious error that occurred in reconciliation of death data at the Ohio Department of Health, that has led to the state adding numerous, older, previously uncounted deaths to the totals late last week. Although the figures will indicate more new deaths on the day the figures are reported, the deaths date back months and will be added to totals for the correct date of death, state officials said.

The error was discovered during a routine employee training and apparently involved data coming from two different entry points.

The error is inexcusable because it shakes the credibility of the reporting system on which Ohio residents must rely. Ohio Department of Health Director Stephanie McCloud said Thursday one employee had been responsible for reviewing death certificate data and reconciling that data with a separate database used by physicians and health departments. The department learned that roughly 4,000 deaths were not added properly to the count since October, when COVID-19 caseloads and deaths began to climb.

We wonder how such a critical calculation could be assigned to one person with no checks and balances. We hope the department has learned its lesson and now is implementing new cross checks to avoid such an error from occurring again.

It should be noted that a state epidemiology investigator responsible for the error resigned last week after initially being placed on administrative leave.

Despite these tracking errors, it appears things are looking up in Ohio. Momentum is building to beat this virus.

While we all are thrilled with this outlook, we caution, however, that we must not let down our guard. We urge Ohioans to continue their awareness and vigilance with social distance, frequent and thorough handwashing and, of course, continued mask wearing in public.

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