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Health & Science
WKSU is looking for the answers to the questions you have about Ohio in a project we call "OH Really?" It's an initiative that makes you part of the news gathering process.

Listeners Ask About Cigarette Sales, National Parks and Agriculture Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

photo of farm
VIVIAN GOODMAN
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WKSU
Questions this week include whether Ohio's farmers have excess food -- which would normally be going to restaurants -- that can be distributed to people suffering from food insecurity in Ohio.

Gov. Mike DeWine has signaled that Ohio nonessential businesses could start reopening by the end of next week. And you’ve been asking what that means for coronavirus testing, the state’s farmers and even Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Now, Sarah Taylor and Kabir Bhatia from our newsroom answer questions you’ve sent in for “OH Really?”

Kabir: Right now, we’re in the midst of National Park Week, which kicked off on Saturday. Sarah, you and I have both visited the park lately and noticed the same thing.

Sarah: Yes; there are a lot of people enjoying the fresh air in Northeast Ohio. Maybe too many in the same place. So Pamela Barnes with Cuyahoga Valley National Park is asking people to social distance and maybe try to discover new places to visit in the park system.

“Like going to the Virginia Kendall area," Barnes said. "There are a lot of choices for trails: Pine Hollow sledding hills is a nice open area with access to many trails from there. The Happy Days Lodge parking lot often fills up, but that’s another choice to get on the Boston Run trail or on the Ledges trail."

Barnes added “Something that we have done is open Howe Meadow – which is directly across from the Beaver Marsh – which is usually only open for special events. But we have opened that up in an attempt to give people more choices. There’s a large open field, you can throw a Frisbee, fly a kite, let the kids run around, [or] do a loop around Indigo Lake."

“We are also asking people to travel on loop trails in a clockwise direction to minimize the amount of times you might meet someone on the trails.”

Coronavirus data in Summit County
Sarah: The national park takes up a great deal of northwest Summit County, where there hasn’t been a single reported case of COVID-19. Last week brought data from the county on how many confirmed cases there are in each zip code – something a lot of people were waiting for.

Until there is widespread testing or a vaccine, I would not expect life to be normal for the foreseeable future - Donna Skoda, Summit County Public Health Commissioner.

Kabir: Now, there isn’t an exact number per zip code, just a range. But we’ve been getting questions about whether per-capita data will be released. Or data as a percentage of the people tested.

Sarah: Summit County Public Health says one reason they were hesitant to release the numbers is precisely because of the limited availability of testing, which is reserved for people who are hospitalized or in long-term care. They are also testing healthcare workers. So the number of cases in a zip code isn’t really indicative of the number of residents in that zip code who have had COVID-19, because people who have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic are not tested.

Kabir: So basically, the numbers are useful, but people shouldn’t assume they live in a major hot spot.

Sarah: True. We also have a lot of questions that make another assumption, which is that we’ve hit our peak and the curve has flattened.

map of Summit County coronavirus cases by zip code
Credit SUMMIT COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
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SUMMIT COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
Map of coronavirus cases in Summit County as of April 16, 2020. Click on the link in the story to get the most recent figures

Kabir: I asked Health Commissioner Donna Skoda about that.

“I believe that the state will hold fast on their rules that – until there is widespread testing or a vaccine – I would not expect life to be normal for the foreseeable future," Skoda said. "We have learned from the experience of other countries: when you try to open without testing or some kind of community control, you are opening yourself up to an even worse situation. Because what we have tried to do with this social distancing is we’ve kept the disease at bay so our hospital facilities were not overwhelmed and could still care for all the other health conditions that are going on while caring for COVID-19 patients.”

Feeding the food banks
Sarah: Our next question comes from Sherry Bobrowicz. She wants to know if the state could buy food from farmers that would usually go to restaurants, and distribute it to the needy?

Kabir: That’s actually something Gov. DeWine is trying to address. I’ll let Ty Higgins from the Ohio Farm Bureau explain.

“There’s about $5 million in emergency funding going to the Ohio Association of Food Banks through a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. There was also $1 million for the Agricultural Clearance Program, which allows food banks to purchase surplus products directly from Ohio farmers: they can buy nonperishable goods, as well as locally produced products like milk, meat and eggs. So it’s a win-win: you’re filing the food banks with fresh, nutritious food from Ohio growers, and you’re also helping those growers move that product at a time when demand for those products has dipped considerably,” Higgins said.

Listeners Ask About Cigarette Sales, National Parks and Agriculture Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
Higgins on Ohio's meat and dairy industries

Another risk from smoking
Kabir: That’s good news for a lot of people. But we got a question from Danny Sopko about another product he wants people to avoid.

Sarah: He asked if there is any plan to suspend nicotine sales. He reasoned that would keep people from going out to buy cigarettes, and also keep them from touching their faces.

Kabir: At Ohio State University, Dr. Rob Crane is a Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Medicine. According to Crane, “Some governors have talked about trying to limit access to nicotine and tobacco products. None has gone very far. And we know the worst thing you can do is repeatedly touch your face – that’s what smokers and vape users do. Not to mention they are injuring their lungs with every breath. We are in the midst of a respiratory pandemic, and the virus seeks out our lungs to attack. It is not an equal opportunity killer. It preys on the elderly, people with heart disease and lung disease, people with obesity and immune problems; most of those things you can’t fix easily. Obviously, it would be wise to give yourself a fighting chance and not spray toxins in your lungs every day. I think individuals recognize they can do their best by social distancing, wearing a mask, and if you’re a smoker: it’s time to rethink. This may be the motivation that they need.”

Taking your questions, finding you answers
The latest pandemic information is available at wksu.org/coronavirus. You can also submit more questions for “OH Really?” here.

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