What does Lorain County’s Spike in Cases Mean for the Community?

While Oberlin College has managed to keep their case numbers low, the Lorain County community continues to experience the implications of rising cases. As of December 18th, the district has 10, 577 confirmed cases and 127 deaths. And while this number has been steadily increasing since October, what stands out is the county’s 12% positivity rate. That means that 12% of all coronavirus tests that are performed come out positive, as compared to the national average of 10% and Ohio’s state-wide average of 14.5%. This rise in community spread has impacted both on-campus operations, with the College’s Spring semester getting pushed back until February, and Lorain County’s hospitals, businesses, and nonprofits.

This increase is in accordance with the general rise in Ohio’s cases. Following November 30th, the state had calculated a 200% increase in Covid-19 related hospitalizations since November 1st. In a conference on the same day, Governor Mike Dewine noted that this hospitalization increase is unprecedented. 

“There is a cause and effect to what we do: we can slow this down. The scariest thing is that there is no indication that we have plateaued. We haven’t seen anything like this for 100 years,” DeWine said. 

At the same conference, Dr. Andy Thomas, chief clinical officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said that one-third of intensive care patients and one-third of individuals on ventilators in Ohio have the virus. Thomas urged anyone who traveled out of state over Thanksgiving to quarantine upon their return to Ohio to prevent any further spread of COVID-19.

This increase in numbers is complicated by the fact that Lorain County Public Health has stopped updating its website on weekends. Since June, the office has been on a Monday-through-Friday schedule. Since mid-November, the agency has become even more overwhelmed with the high case volume that it has had to pause reporting on certain data points until the caseload decreases. 

And while some of the pandemic’s impacts are easily noticed—one can walk down the street and see empty restaurants and shuttered retail stores—what has perhaps received less attention are the challenges facing the dozens of nonprofit organizations that provide essential services to community members. Amidst a deluge of new COVID-19 cases, nonprofits have had to find ways to provide essential services. 

In a recent Cleveland Report, members of Lorain’s Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), who chose to remain unnamed, explained that while digital meetings are a necessary and effective accountability tool, they do not replace an in-person support structure. 

Some highlighted the easier way to access meetings—you can do it from any place at any time. Yet others worried about the digital environment’s lack of authentic human connection. They explained that recovery meetings are a safe place to unburden oneself, and not only discuss immediate impacts of substance abuse, but all the other factors that contribute to it, such as financial concerns, comorbidity, and family dynamics. Digital meetings do not provide the same kind of safe space where members do not have to fear being overheard.

One AA member highlighted that participants may have an easier time evading notice when they are online. “People wouldn’t know if you went on a bender because they no longer are accustomed to seeing you”, they said. “You can’t smell liquor on someone’s breath and know they need support.” 

This concern has been aggravated by 5 members’ recent relapses, which have coincided with the county’s increased caseload. Lorain’s AA chapter highlights Covid-19’s tendency to especially impact those who were already facing challenges and marginalization. 

Oberlin Community Services (OCS), an organization that provides direct assistance to Oberlin residents, has had to make program changes due to the pandemic. They have had to cancel their Saturday food distribution schedule, only keeping their Monday, Wednesday, and Friday pick up times. This schedule change potentially impacts those who work during the day, as they no longer have weekend distribution access. OCS is also no longer able to accept non-food donations and has canceled educational and outreach programs and events. 

However, despite these changes, OCS is still continuing to support the communities they have always served and are continuing their Holiday programming. On November 24th, they handed out food for Thanksgiving and will do the same for Christmas on December 22nd.  OCS is also holding the “Holiday Helping Hands Gift Distribution” event on Thursday, December 17th, where children from ages 0-17 can receive a holiday gift. 

The rising caseload has also left community members concerned about the county’s hospital system. Oberlin resident Jill Blake noted that the increasing COVID hospitalization rate affects not only patients afflicted with the virus but everyone who needs medical care. 

“My concern is for the hospital system: the health care workers and the chronically ill who still need regular care for cancer and stroke, [or] PT for that broken hip,” Blake said. 

“The day-to-day thought is that six year old boy who has to go to the hospital for his weekly chemotherapy appointment. I actually met him in the waiting room a month ago. It was the day before his birthday.”

The pandemic has necessitated a close relationship between the town and College. As community spread impacts the school’s surrounding area, President Ambar stressed the importance of working together with the town.

“There has been a building of community commitment that has been honed in and has become even more recognizable in this pandemic. Even the issue of racial injustice—the town asked for an Oberlin senior staff member to be on their team. I always felt our relationship was collaborative, but everytime you face a challenge you grow stronger and I’ve been heartened by the type of conversations that we’ve had. The other thing that has helped create community is our transparency about data—the ability for anyone to see what’s going on with these cases builds a layer of trust that the town has commended.” 

Blake agreed with Ambar’s sentiment, noting that “the college was brilliant, and I say this even though I had serious doubts at the beginning. They communicated well with the community, from the dashboard to immediate information regarding any spikes—a party with kids being disciplined, then a brass band following a protocol that simply was not good enough… This is all as good as we can hope for right now.”