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Health officials tracking two COVID-19 outbreaks in Licking County

Cases at a Newark long-term care facility have now topped 100. And now health officials say more than 30 are tied to a Heath church.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Stephen Short drove from his home in Hocking County to Columbus on Friday to try to talk to Gov. Mike DeWine.

He says he wants the governor to do something to help with the spread of coronavirus in the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

“It’s a war zone, you know,” Short said of the facilities. “I mean, there’s no other way to put it. I mean, here’s all these people that went there for peace of mind and to enjoy their last days, and they’re miserable. At this point, (the governor is) worried about bars and drinking after 10 o’clock. I think the man needs to worry about nursing homes. I mean, these are the people that, before him and me and other people, that made this country. And they don’t deserve to die like this. They don’t.”

Short’s uncle, Bob Evans, went to Newark Care and Rehabilitation three years ago. And Short says it was there that he contracted both the coronavirus and pneumonia. Now, after a stint in the hospital, he’s back at the facility under Hospice care.

“Unfortunately, where he contracted it at, is where he will pass away from it,” Short said.

That facility is the site of what local health officials call Licking County’s first coronavirus outbreak.

At last count, there were 73 resident cases, 43 staff member cases and 21 deaths.

“(The Licking County Health Department) is continuing to work with the administration of NCR to identify any additional positive cases and determine the close contacts for quarantine,” the health department said in a statement. “The facility is licensed and inspected by ODH so they are enacting their duties as their licensee. LCHD has no jurisdiction over the facility in terms of inspection.”

10TV did confirm with the Ohio Department of Health that the facility is still being investigated. But no other information was available.

Newark Care and Rehabilitation issued the following statement:

"Newark Care and Rehabilitation, a skilled nursing facility located in Newark, Ohio with 173 beds, confirms that 73 residents and 43 staff have tested positive for COVID19. We appreciate the virus has a disproportionate impact on the elderly population. From the onset of this pandemic, we have been committed to fighting the spread of the virus within the nursing home.  The facility remains vigilant in its preventative measures and we are grateful to the guidance of local and state healthcare agencies including the Licking County Health Department. 

 We are encouraged by the progress we have made as many residents and staff have recovered or are actively recovering from the virus.  Their determined spirit encourages us daily.  Several residents who tested positive were asymptomatic or experienced only mild symptoms. Sadly, 21 residents have passed.  We grieve for the loss of those that we have come to know and love.    

Our continued collaboration with both the Licking County Health Dept and ODH has been instrumental in our response to this outbreak.  We have been and will continue to follow the recommendations from the CDC, ODH and LCHD. We are also thankful for our dedicated Newark Care and Rehab team who have worked tirelessly for the betterment of our residents during this most difficult time. 

Our thoughts and prayers are with the residents and their families during this uncertain national health crisis and we ask that you respect their privacy."

Short attended the Licking County Commission meeting on Thursday to make a plea for more help, even if it’s too late for his uncle. And he says he’s still determined to get answers from the governor’s office.

When contacted, Gov. DeWine's office sent the following response to 10TV:

“If I can help save somebody’s life, that’s what it’s about,” Short said. “You know, my uncle’s not going to make it. He’s on Hospice. I’ve accepted that. But what I’m not going to accept is to see other innocent people that cannot do anything for themselves unfortunately sit up there and just die. It’s not fair, and it’s not right.”

Just a few miles away from Newark Care and Rehabilitation, health officials are tracking another coronavirus outbreak.

This one is tied to Christian Life Center in Heath.

“Under the circumstances, every church was just trying to do the best that they could and navigate what no one could ever have anticipated or expected,” Pastor Michael Ensey said.

His church shut down in-person services back in March. But members could still tune in online, call in by phone, or even have a DVD delivered.

But Pastor Ensey said it just wasn’t the same. So, after months of no cases among the more than 600 church members, the doors reopened on June 7, with limited capacity. There was no mask requirement.

About one month later, the church was informed of the first case. That was July 16, the same day Licking County was declared a red county on the state’s COVID-19 risk assessment map.

Soon, after more cases popped up, so the church shut its doors once again. At last count, there were 32 cases tied to the church.

“We’re going to be careful, not fearful, and that’s been kind of our mantra throughout the entire process this year,” the pastor said. “We’re going to be careful but not fearful. God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind, and so, we’re not going to make decisions based on fear, but we are going to use wisdom. We’re going to be safe, we’re going to follow all of the guidelines from all of our health department officials.”

Pastor Ensey did take issue with the health department figures, however. He says, of those 32 member cases, some have not even attended in-person services since the doors reopened and so had to have contracted the virus elsewhere.

Still, he says the church is following health department guidance.

10TV received this statement from the department:

“The Licking County Health Department is actively working with the administration of Christian Life Center in Heath regarding an outbreak of COVID-19 illnesses related to the church. With the assistance of Christian Life Center, our department has conducted contact tracing of individuals who are confirmed with COVID-19 and attend the church. We will continue to work with the church’s administration if additional cases are identified, and we will also identify any close contacts of the confirmed individuals. Christian Life Center has provided our department with the prevention guidelines they ask of their attendees for review, and we appreciate their willingness to work with our staff to prevent further spread of the virus. We continue to urge county residents to stay home if they are sick, wear a mask in accordance with the state’s order, maintain proper social distancing and wash their hands frequently.” 

The church has plans to reopen its doors for in-person services on Sunday. This time, church members will be required to wear face coverings, with limited exceptions, and will be asked to refrain from physical contact. Members will be seated in every other pew and asked to cluster with their families.

“People need hope, and faith is such an important fabric and part of our church, and especially our local community,” the pastor said. “There is nothing like coming together and worshipping together and connecting in a spiritual atmosphere that can’t be replicated in somebody’s living room.”

Online services will continue for those church members who want to continue to worship from home.

Editor's Note: Stephen Short informed 10TV that his uncle, Bob Evans, died Saturday morning at Newark Care and Rehabilitation.

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