Health department handled 2nd year of COVID-19 well, looking to return to normalcy


LANCASTER — The second year of the coronavirus pandemic was a major concern for the Fairfield Department of Health, but Health Commissioner Joe Ebel said his staff did well.

The department’s 2021 annual report highlighted health statistics from across the county, including vitality rates; COVID-19 cases, deaths and vaccinations; and other communicable diseases.

Between 2020 and 2021, there was a slight increase of pregnancies whose mothers were under 18 years old, and more births in general. There were also more deaths by COVID-19, and by suicide.

Ebel said the second year of the pandemic ran slightly smoother than the first, because the department already had one year of experience dealing with it under their belt, so changes were slightly easier to adapt to.

“Our standards had to change throughout the year, following (Centers for Disease Prevention and Control) guidelines. Also, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout started last year. We had the larger clinics for them, but as it became available, more pharmacies offered them, which reduced our need to administer them,” Ebel said.

He added fighting disinformation surrounding vaccines proved difficult. A little more than half the county’s population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by the time of the report, and Ebel said it has been concerning.

“During the last pandemic with the H1N1 virus we saw a largely positive response to the vaccine once it was available. This time around, we saw a lot more reluctance from folks,” he said. “However, we just have to keep an eye on trends and make sure people are aware of best practices and safety guidelines.”

“Many of the deaths we saw in December 2021 and January this year were well into the Omicron variant wave.”

Ebel added that the routine vaccination clinics, which offer the vaccines schools require for children, reopened last year after having to be shut down due to COVID-19. His concern, he said, is that some children may not be fully vaccinated, which could lead to possible outbreaks or illnesses. The clinics are being offered again, with appointments available and ready to be scheduled.

Ebel explained the county’s vitality stats can determine what his department focuses on throughout the year. Birth rates, especially the ages of the mothers, are one example of what programming could be pushed.

“Between 2020 and 2021, we had a slight increase of teen mothers under 18. We pay attention to that because of risk factors involved, like the risk they won’t finish high school and other challenges the future may hold. We also need to be aware in case there’s more education needed to help prevent or prepare people for teen pregnancy,” he said. “Keeping track of those statistics also tells us what kind of support families may need in the future. Luckily, there has been an overall downward trend of teen pregnancies nationwide for the last 20 years.”

Causes of death are another aspect of the vitality statistics the health department tracks. 2021 saw slightly more deaths than 2020, with categories like deaths by suicide and homicide seeing an increase.

“When it comes to causes of death, those can direct us to provide certain resources. Like with deaths by suicide, whether we need more intervention programming or assisting people with improving mental health,” Ebel said. “Homicides were unusually high last year, but that’s been trending up nationwide, especially in bigger cities.”

The health department also pays attention to communicable diseases, even during a pandemic. Ebel said the trends tracked by health officials, reported daily and monthly, can point to potential outbreaks and help direct searches to find the cause.

“For instance, if there are areas of the county reporting higher-than-normal cases of a communicable disease, then we can look to find the root. It could be food-borne, or blood-borne. From there, we have to look at the area and try to find the source,” Ebel said.

In 2020, there were 61 reported hospitalizations because of the flu; 2021 saw eight. There were more than double the cases of lyme disease, up from 15 in 2020 to 36 in 2021.

Ebel said the focus for 2022 will be to look at preventative care, rather than reactive.

“We’d like to get Fairfield County residents educated so we can work to stop disease outbreaks before they start. We’re utilizing state and federal grant money to build these programs, and really working to emphasize stopping illnesses before they get out of hand, instead of having to work to react to them so much,” he said.

Barrett Lawlis is a reporter with the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, part of the USA Today Network. You can share story ideas or comments with him at 740-681-4342 or send an e-mail to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @BarrettLawlis

This article originally appeared on Lancaster Eagle-Gazette: Fairfield Department of Health’s 2nd year with pandemic easier


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