Health commissioner sees hope at one-year mark

MIAMI COUNTY — The world marked the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 outbreak on Tuesday. Locally, Miami County Public Health Commissioner Dennis Propes said while the county has seen a lot of loss during the pandemic, there is hope on the horizon.

The county recently topped 10,000 documented coronavirus cases, which he said is anything but typical for the department. Propes said in a typical year, Miami County Public Health generally investigates about 700 communicable diseases.

“And in a year, we have done 10,000 COVID-19 cases alone,” Propes said Tuesday. “There are counties that have exceeded ours, but for us, that is a very large number.”

Propes said the county usually loses about 400 residents to heart disease and a little more than 100 residents yearly to cancer. To date, there have been 194 residents die at the hands of COVID-19, he said.

“It is one of the leading causes of death in Miami County residents for 2020,” Propes said.

Propes said COVID-19 has been compared to the flu in the past, but he confirms the numbers tell a very different story, saying COVID-19 has far surpassed a normal flu season.

“If we get a few flu deaths, it’s considered a bad year,” he said.

Propes said MCPH staff, much like the public, are ready to see the pandemic come to an end.

“It’s been nonstop since we got that first call that we had a possible positive case at a nursing home,” Propes said. “You come in and do what you have to do and process it all later. It’s been a blur.”

So far in Miami County, more than 16,000 people 65 and older have been vaccinated across all vaccine providers, according to Propes.

“We’re approaching about 55 percent of those residents who have received their first dose,” Propes said. “So, that’s a positive … and we keep chucking at that every day.”

Propes said when it comes to the vaccine, there are still hurdles to overcome with the public, including conspiracy theories, lack of education about the vaccine and those who still believe COVID-19 doesn’t exist.

“We have a lot to overcome with certain segments of the population. And overcoming that hesitancy is going to be key to ending this thing,” Propes said. “We are getting real close to the finish line at this point and we need to make sure we don’t fall short and have this drag on for many more months. Getting the vaccine is key.”

While the vaccine continues to be opened up to more age groups, Propes said people still need to take the necessary precautions.

“We’re almost to the end and we will get there faster if everyone will do their part,” he said. “If they will wear their mask, continue social distancing and get their vaccine when it is offered to them.”

Propes said he can see the light at the end of the tunnel for a return to normal life, or close to it at least if people continue to follow the mandates and get vaccinated. He said beginning in May, he sees most events returning to the community, including proms, graduations, fairs and festivals. He said MCPH will be receiving guidance from the Ohio Department of Health in the near future concerning events such as these.

“There’s going to be a lot of things open back up. They may not look like they have in the past yet, but I don’t foresee any event not being able to take place in some form,” Propes said. “We will be working to help everyone move forward.”