Pike County General Health District

For the past several months, the news has been consumed with information regarding coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Locally, the numbers of confirmed cases have remained relatively low. In fact, Pike County currently has one of the lowest numbers in the state. Matt Brewster, Health Commissioner of the Pike County General Health District, said they provided a local survey because they wanted to obtain an idea about how locals were handling the situation and dealing with the crisis. A total of 455 individuals had completed the survey by May 7.

“Primary data from people who actually live in Pike County is much more valuable to us than statewide data that usually does a poor job of representing our community and other rural areas,” said Brewster, explaining the reasoning for his survey.

“How people who live in Columbus or other large urban centers think and see things are sometimes quite different than those in rural Appalachia. I care much more about what someone living on Beaver’s Ridge thinks about COVID-19 than someone in Upper Arlington. To make the best decisions with COVID-19 and all other public health concerns, we have to have input from our local community.”

The survey issued in mid-April included seven questions, followed by an area where those completing the survey could share any other thoughts.

“We wanted to develop a short and simple survey that would give valuable data and that was not too long where people would not take the time to complete (it). There has been a comparison of COVID-19 to flu from day one – so we definitely wanted to get our community’s thoughts on that issue,” said Brewster.

“Social distancing is the most effective method to prevent the spread of the virus. To rural Appalachia, nothing is more important than family and spending time with family, so we wanted to address that in this survey. The wearing of masks is probably the most highly debated topic we see on social media, so we wanted to address that as well. We also left a comment section at the end of the survey where individuals could give us any other thoughts they had, and that was probably the most interesting part of the survey.”

The first question asked, ”How worried are you that you will contract COVID-19?”

The scale went from one to five with one being “Not Worried” and five being “Extremely Worried.” The largest amount of respondents selected three representing the middle of the spectrum, which included 165 individuals, and 36.3 percent of the 455 respondents. A total of 181 respondents were more concerned with 96 (21.1 percent) selecting four and 85 (18.7 percent) selecting five for most worried. On the other end of the spectrum, a total of 56 selected two (12.3 percent), and 53 selected one (11.6 percent) for least worried.

The second question was, “How worried are you that a family member will contract COVID-19?

Once again, the scale went from one to five with one being “Not Worried” and five being “Extremely Worried.” Number five, “Extremely Worried”, received the most responses at 192 (42.2 percent). A total of 116 respondents selected four (25.5 percent), 80 chose three (17.6 percent), 35 picked two (7.7 percent), and 32 picked one (7 percent).

The third question asked, “How would you compare COVID-19 to regular flu?”. Choices included “Less Dangerous”, “Very Similar”, “Slightly More Dangerous”, and “Much More Dangerous”.

More than half of the respondents said they felt that COVID-19 was much more dangerous than the regular flu, coming in at 54.3 percent. The next largest amount came from individuals who said slightly more dangerous, coming in at 29.5 percent. Those who selected very similar included 13.2 percent. Only a few, three percent, said they felt it was less dangerous.

The fourth question was, “How would you rate Gov. DeWine and Dr. Acton’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ohio?

Respondents could select one through 10 with one being “Not Strict Enough” and 10 being “Overly Strict.” The largest number of the respondents were in the middle with 116 of them selecting five (25.5 percent). The rest of the results skewed toward the overly strict range with 238 selecting numbers six through 10. A smaller number of 101 individuals selected one through four on the “Not Strict Enough” side of five.

The fifth question asked, “How do you feel about some businesses opening up May 1st?” Choices were “Too Early”, “The Right Time”, and “Should Have Never Been Closed”.

The largest amount of respondents felt that it was too early, as 56.3 percent selected that choice. Another 34.7 percent said it was the right time, while nine percent said the businesses should have never been closed.

The sixth question asked, “How would you rate your level of social distancing?” The scale went from one, which was “No Social Distancing” up to five, which was “Intense Social Distancing”.

The results skewed toward the end of more intense social distancing with the largest amount of respondents selecting three through five, totaling 421 of the 455. The largest portion, 208 (45.7 percent) individuals, selected number four. The next largest came from number five for the most intensive social distancing, including 129 individuals (28.4 percent). Those who selected one or two totaled just 34 respondents.

The seventh question asked, “Do you plan on wearing a mask while out in public?”. A total of 60.4 percent said yes, while 39.6 percent said no.

The last question asked respondents for any other thoughts they would like to share. Answers and reactions were quite varied among those who decided to share their feelings.

For Brewster and the Pike County General Health District, the survey also served as a test to see how knowledgable Pike County residents were about the situation.

“The people who filled out the survey seemed to have a good understanding of the current situation, risk, and what they need to do to prevent the spread. I also believe they answered the questions honestly,” said Brewster.

“However, I am not sure those results are highly reflective of what I actually see out in the general public on a daily basis. For example, 60 percent of our respondents stated they would wear a mask while in public, and I am not seeing that out in the public. Seventy-four percent of respondents stated that they are social distancing at either a four or five on a scale of five. The parking lots of Kroger, Wal-Mart, and Rural King tell a different story.”

Brewster realizes that the Pike County General Health District survey was limited by accessibility.

“The main limitation of the survey was the fact that it was only available online, posted on our Facebook page, and then emailed to our coalitions and partners — so we are getting limited responses and not from every sector of the county,” said Brewster.

“If we had more time, could do in-person interviews, have surveys filled out and available in public places, etc., we would have received results that are more reflective of our entire county. The data was still useful, but another more widely distributed survey to reach more of the county would be helpful.”

Regulating and navigating the rules for businesses during these times has been challenging for the Pike County General Health District, and the decisions made are reflections of the state’s orders.

“I want to reiterate that the decision on what businesses can open and when they can open are made at the state level by Gov. (Mike) DeWine and Dr. (Amy) Acton, not the local level. This phased approach with all these new guidelines is a nightmare for us to try and enforce,” explained Brewster.

“Guidance from ODH (Ohio Department of Health) has changed from day to day. It is hard for us to enforce something and for the public to comply with when the guidance and recommendations change so rapidly. Some of these changes make sense and are based on science and some are not — it just puts us in a tough place.”

Brewster recently shared a message for all Pike County businesses. It reads, “We know this has been an extremely rough time for all of our business owners and we want to let you know the health district is here to support and help you in any way we can as you reopen. Our approach with these new guidelines will be geared toward education versus enforcement. We are looking at these for the first time as well, but please let us know if you have any questions, and we can work through this together. We get mixed messages and changing guidance daily from ODH (Ohio Department of Health), so I think one of the most important things we all can do as we move forward is to apply common sense to each situation.”

Brewster urges continued education on the true facts about COVID-19 for Pike Countians.

“There is obviously a lot of misinformation on social media and in the news related to COVID-19. I would encourage our community to educate themselves with multiple credible sources, use common sense, and do not believe everything that you see in the news or on social media,” said Brewster.

In the section of the survey where respondents could share any additional thoughts they had, there were 138 responses. The News Watchman has decided to share several of those anonymous thoughts.

One respondent said, “No one wants to get the virus but as long as people follow the instructions of social distancing when we do try to go back to somewhat normal activities until we have a vaccine, I feel we should be OK. I worry about the kids who will go back to their social groups and not following the social distancing.”

Another said, “We are all at risk; however, with consideration, responsibility, integrity, and respect for each other, we can ‘win the war’ against covid-19. It will take Maturity, Wisdom, Kindness, Courage, and people willing to give whatever they can, to help where it is needed the most.”

A third said, in part, “I will do what I am advised is best to do regardless of how I feel if it means people will be safer as a result. If everyone goes back to work and practices a little more respect, awareness, and basic universal precautions we will all be better for it.”

Email at jbillings@newswatchman.com; follow on Twitter @ Julie_Billings

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