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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Butler County Talks Solid Rock Church, Provides Update On County Preparedness

solid rock church
Wikimedia Commons
Solid Rock Church in Warren County has come under fire for continuing to hold in-person services and meetings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Butler County health and emergency management officials used their regular Friday briefing to detail what's happening behind-the-scenes to keep people safe.

EMA Director Matt Haverkos says his agency is working with each of the local health departments (Middletown, Hamilton and Butler County) to coordinate the response and direct resources. The county's emergency operations center is operational and the National Guard is assisting.

People who want to make donations or volunteer are being asked to complete an online survey. You can also ask for non-emergency assistance like help with food or supplies. First responders and health care groups can use a separate form to request PPE.

"There is a united front here in the county to ensure that we have the proper equipment and supplies needed for every jurisdiction," Haverkos says. "To date every jurisdiction has been touched with personal protective equipment, with information flow - what's happening at the county and state levels - and (we've) also reached out to our health care providers ... and long-term care and other health system partners who are on the front lines of this."

Butler County's eight hospitals have received their share of PPE from the national stockpile and took turns Friday explaining how they're handling COVID-19 screening. All have some kind of external tent-like structure for screening potential COVID-19 patients before they're allowed into the facilities.

Dr. Keith Bricking is president of Atrium Medical Center, part of the Premier Health Network.

"We do continue to have delays with turnaround time with testing. I am happy to announce that fortunately within the last 24 hours Premier Health has been able to get a rapid test that we believe that we're going to be able to get same-day results on hospitalized patients. We're going to be partnering with local hospital systems in those efforts," Bricking says.

The hospitals say they have PPE for employees currently, but are encouraging donations.

Dr. Marcus Romanello, chief medical officer for Fort Hamilton Hospital in the Kettering Health Network, addressed the expected surge, and explained that people who aren't sick enough to be hospitalized are being sent home to recuperate in order not to overwhelm hospital resources. He says they've been working to increase the depth of available nurses, advanced practice providers and critical care physicians, along with back-ups so they can call on additional help in the event of a surge.

As for ventilators he says, "we have available a certain number to handle a surge, but should a massive surge occur then ventilators become a challenge. That is why it is so important to remain at home and help us flatten this curve so that we can manage this over a longer time period."

As of Friday morning, Butler County has two COVID-19 deaths. Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer says those aren't showing on the state's listing yet because they're still waiting on formal death certificates.

Solid Rock Church

Solid Rock Church near Monroe, along I-75 just across the county border in Warren County, has come under scrutiny and prompted community outrage for continuing to hold in-person services and meetings during the pandemic.

In a message on its website, the church writes, "If there has ever been a time in the history of our world when we all need God's help, it is now. For that reason, we believe that the doors of Solid Rock Church should remain open. It is in these times of crisis that the church should play a critical role as a place of refuge ... A place where anyone can come to pray, to worship, and to find healing and hope."

Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer says she's gotten "too many calls too count," and has been in touch with the church. She says a church attorney tells her they're practicing social distancing, cleaning the facilities regularly and have hand sanitizer available.

"We are often asked many times a day why we have not shut them down and I can tell you that that is because the governor gave churches an exception. We would prefer, as public health authorities, for them not to meet in such large numbers."

Monroe Mayor Jason Frentzel Thursday sent a letter to the church's leaders, stating the city has received complaints and asking them to shutter.

"While I understand you have the right to assemble, I also understand the community's concerns with having such a large gathering coming together in this current environment. I implore you to please reconsider your choice to continue to offer in-person services to your worshipers."

Should the church leaders not do so, he asks they take additional measures such as taking parishioner temperatures before allowing them to enter.

Many churches and faith communities have chosen to cancel in-person services and groups. Some have moved worship online and others are finding different ways to meet the needs of their parishioners.

With Palm Sunday and Easter coming up, Bailer says she's fielding calls from churches choosing not to meet asking if it's OK to hold parking lot services. She's telling them that should be fine as long as it's only one household per car and people stay in their cars.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.