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Official: Public at low risk for virus

STEUBENVILLE — The Jefferson County commissioners heard from county Health Commissioner Nicole Balakos about the ongoing concerns over coronavirus at their weekly meeting Thursday morning inside the courthouse.

Balakos, who was accompanied by one of the health department’s nurses, Hannah Piko, detailed recent developments with the much-publicized virus.

She said the virus, which originated in China, was first discussed by county health officials at the Jan. 21 board of health meeting. Since that time, there have been confirmed cases in the United States.

In reaction to that development, the Ohio Department of Health began making contact with local health departments. According to Balakos, the local health department has contact with the ODH on a daily basis, seven days a week.

She emphasized to the commissioners that the public is at “little risk” from the virus. While there have been a reported 28,500 cases globally, there are only 12 confirmed cases within the U.S. She made a comparison to the common flu, which has already caused 8,633 hospitalizations this flu season.

“My understanding is that this is making a lot of news, but the flu is still what we should be concerned about,” Commissioner David Maple said.

Balakos discussed how social media can affect the public reaction to new strains of viruses and health concerns because of attention such instances receive.

Balakos and Piko described to the commissioners the symptoms of the virus, similar to the common flu, and stressed that it is a different strand of virus and separate from that of the flu. It was stated that those at risk of serious cases are similar to that with the flu, such as the elderly and children.

“There is really not a comparison as far as what you need to be concerned about right now,” she said. “The regular concerns are typical, seasonal influenza. That is really where the focus should always be at this time. Because this is new, we don’t have a vaccine for it, that is why the focus is so much on this.”

There have been three cases of the virus investigated in Ohio, two of which have been cleared. The third case, according to Balakos, is still under investigation. Due to regulations, she could not identify where those patients reside.

The health department has been in contact with the EMA, local hospitals, schools and other health departments in Ohio and neighboring areas to be prepared for any further developments.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, the commissioners heard from Cynthia Phillis of Wells Township in a public participation. She discussed an ongoing dispute with the township regarding a gate that closes off access to one end of township Road 162. The full length of the road is 3.13 miles. The portion that is gated off is 1.13 miles.

The road joins Ohio 151 on one end and township Road 157 on the other.

According to Phillis, there are 46 residential properties on the road.

She said the closed end of the road gives faster access to Ohio 7 and another way for residents of the road to exit in case of an emergency.

According to Phillis, the road was supposed to have been reopened and has not been.

Commissioner Maple noted that the board of commissioners position is that the portion of the road in question is “an open road.”

Maple also noted the commissioners cannot require other elected officials to act, but did recommend the commissioners send a letter to the township in regards to the matter.

Phillis was advised to seek legal council to discuss further options. County engineer Jim Branagan expressed interest in attending the next township trustees meeting, which is Tuesday, to discuss the matter.

Commissioners heard bids for gasoline and diesel fuel for the engineering department from three companies.

Commissioners received bid recommendations from McKinley and Associates of Wheeling, the county’s engineering consultant, on three projects at the Jefferson County Justice Center.

The recommendation of N.F Mansuetto and Sons of $493,850 for replacement of the entire roof was tabled until next week’s meeting to gather more information. The bid was done multiple ways, including the entire roof and just jail portion, and with alternate materials. The commissioners will assess the different options, as well as get answers to additional questions.

All four applicants for the cooling tower project at the justice center omitted required documents from their bids. The recommendation of Prout Boiler Heating and Welding of Youngstown was accepted on the condition the required documents are provided. The bid was $175,500.

“I did some checking on that company, they are a very reputable company,” Commissioner Tom Gentile said. “They have worked in the area and have a good reputation.”

The recommendation for a jail renovation project will be revisited after the bid came in at more than 10 percent more than the estimated cost.

The details of the project will be revisited before being potentially bid again.

Commissioners approved an engineering department request for advertisement of bids for a resurfacing project of county Road 2 and county Road 56. The estimate from the engineer was $573,678. The project is partially funded by the Ohio Public Works Commission Grant.

Commissioners approved a lease agreement with the Markosky Engineering Group of Ligonier, Pa., in the Towers Building.

“This is another good sign getting another tenant in the Towers Building,” Commissioner Thomas Graham said. “We’re getting more and more tenants in. It is over 80 percent occupied now, I believe.”

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