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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.

Hamilton County COVID Numbers, Budget Stable For Now

Courtesy of Hamilton County
The red bar indicates the implementation of a statewide mask requirement.

Hamilton County officials say COVID-19 numbers are still plateauing but warn people should continue to be diligent about face coverings, hand washing and social distancing. Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman says the data shows declines following Ohio's mask mandate, which is seen as a positive result of the order.

"We are doing a very good job," says Kesterman. "We could do better and there's still room for improvement but overall we're doing a good job."

Week-to-week numbers of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all up slightly from last week:

  • Positive cases: 9,766, increase of 518 from previous week
  • Hospitalizations: 986, increase of 53 from previous week
  • Deaths: 257, increase of nine from previous week

The reproductive value or "R-value" remains just under 1, a good sign, at 0.95.
Hamilton County Public Health is employing around 50 contact tracers, with about half reaching out to people who test positive and the other half managing cases within schools and businesses, according to Kesterman.

"We wanted to have a little bit more personalized experience for businesses and schools," he explains. "When a case pops up in these locations there's some work that has to happen, so those contact tracers reach out to the appropriate person - to the owner of the business or the manager or the principal or the school nurse - and they provide detailed information about those individuals that also need to be isolated, cleaning requirements... we really just want to make sure we're getting on the ball and getting in front of any potential outbreak that can happen from a case in these types of environments."

Kesterman says additional contact tracers are slowly being added though he feels the current complement is able to handle the existing workload.

COVID-19 Effects On The County Budget

The pandemic continues to take a toll on the county's budget. County Administrator Jeff Aluotto says the 2020 projected revenue budget was set at $276 million. That's now projected to be $21 million less at $255 million.

There is some encouraging news, however, given earlier estimates projected losses of $30 million to $40 million. "So we have not seen that deep of reductions but we still have seen significant reductions nonetheless," Aluotto says.

He credits cuts made by various county departments at the start of the pandemic for helping to offset the reductions. "They were within they're own departmental budgets bringing down expenditures to match our new revenue estimates. Those actions, be they on the personnel or non-personnel side, have greatly assisted in making sure we have rightsized the budget."

He adds that puts the county in a better position heading into 2021.

The first collections from the former Union Terminal restoration tax are also starting to roll into the county's coffers, helping the bottom line. Sales tax revenues overall for March and April show a loss of $4.5 million compared to 2019. (Sales tax data reporting has a three-month lag. Numbers for May are expected shortly.)

Application Process Now Open For CARES Act Funds For Nonprofits

Hamilton County is using $5 million of its federal CARES Act Plan distribution to help nonprofits affected by the pandemic. Another $500,000 is set aside specifically for nonprofits providing domestic violence supportive services.

Organizations that provide "essential social and family services in Hamilton County" can apply for grants of $25,000 to $250,000. Those services are defined as including "food access, workforce development, substance abuse services, services benefiting senior citizens, and foreclosure prevention."

Holly Christmann, assistant county administrator, thanks nonprofit organizations for their work throughout the pandemic. "We understand and recognize the increase in demand that many of you have faced and we also understand the difficult circumstances you're facing in trying to adapt your organizations to meet the need of our residents. We have heard anecdotally ... of 23% increases in service needs based on client needs. We have heard from the Human Services Chamber in a survey of its members that they have had significant increase in demand for their services."

The application window is open now through Aug. 26. The Community Development Advisory Committee will review and score the applications.

The county received $142 million in CARES Act funding. You can track those funds on the Hamilton County CARES Dashboard.

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.