WESTERVILLE — The city announced this week it is under a public health state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Westerville, which is in Delaware and Franklin counties, made the decision on Tuesday, citing that its local hospitals are being overwhelmed with demand due to the surge in coronavirus illnesses requiring hospitalization.
“Mount Carmel St. Ann’s, OhioHealth, Central Ohio Primary Care and all Central Ohio health systems are facing critical challenges with the influx of COVID-19 patients, most of whom are unvaccinated,” the City of Westerville said in a news release. “Emergency departments and intensive care units (ICU) are overrun. Health care staff are exhausted. This is a crisis. They need our help, Westerville.
“Please: Mask up. Get vaccinated. Cover your cough and sneeze. Stop the spread.”
Masks are now required to be worn at public buildings, including the Community Center, regardless of vaccination status, the city said. The public was urged to conduct its business with the city by email, phone calls or virtual meetings. The city noted local businesses may also require the wearing of masks, and failure to comply would be considered trespassing.
“This is not a mask mandate,” the city said. “It is an appeal to the strength and generosity of the Westerville community to take care of themselves, their families, their neighbors and children … Westerville maintains this is not a personal or political issue; it’s a community effort. Wearing a mask in public is a minor act that can lead to a major outcome: relieving some of the pressure on the local health care system.”
Westerville City Manager Monica Irelan has the power to declare an emergency under the Ohio Constitution, the City Charter and Ohio Revised Code.
“WHEREAS, If local hospitals and facilities are unable to accept patients or to adequately provide emergency medical services, it would increase run times and corresponding delays in service for the City’s first responders, and would have numerous additional impacts that would threaten the lives of the citizens of the City of Westerville and substantially impair the functioning of City government and its ability to protect the lives and property of the citizens of the City of Westerville,” read the Declaration of Emergency signed by Irelan.
The declaration advised all citizens to take the following actions to protect themselves, as recommended by Franklin County Public Health: “wear a face covering, especially indoors or in crowded outdoor places; get an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine and other preventative medical treatments; wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; cover your cough or sneeze with your arm or inner elbow, NOT your hands; avoid close contact with people who are sick; stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces.”
Westerville also reminded its residents that its fire department can bring the vaccine to them by calling 614-901-6000 for an appointment. In addition, COTA buses are offering no-fare rides to vaccination sites.
The public health crisis caused Uptown Westerville to cancel this month’s 4th Friday on Sept. 24. A decision has not been reached on October’s event. However, other upcoming events in the city have been canceled, including: the Great Westerville Pumpkin Glow, Fire Prevention Week Open House, and the Public Power Week Open House.
Beggar’s Night is not a city-sponsored event, so it is still on. The city advised wearing protective masks and social distancing for participants.
The city will evaluate whether to lift the state of emergency on Nov. 2 or sooner if the burden on health systems is lessened.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.