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Coronavirus: 228 cases in Columbus and Worthington; Columbus City Council gets briefing in virtual town hall

Columbus City Council holds a virtual town hall as it rides out its suspended session due to coronavirus

Columbus Public Health, which serves Columbus and Worthington, announced Tuesday that there are a total 228 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the two cities, 14 total hospitalizations, and two deaths in Columbus.

Health officials provided the figures during a briefing to Columbus City Council, the first of what is to be a series of “virtual town hall” meetings to get updates on the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Council suspended in-person meetings until at least late April for coronavirus safety precautions prohibiting large gatherings.
While the elderly are considered high risk, 83% of the cases in the two cities are people ages 20 to 59, showing “this disease affects everyone,” said Edward Johnson, director of public health policy for the city. Columbus Public Health provides services to the city of Worthington under contract. Other suburns are served by Franklin County health department.
State officials have said that, due to extreme shortfalls in testing capacity, the number of “confirmed” cases represents only a small fraction of the projected total cases believed to already be present in Ohio communities.
For people potentially getting evicted from rental houses and apartments because of job losses caused by the pandemic, there are no scheduled municipal court eviction hearings until at least May 11. And those will be limited to reduce the number of people in courtrooms, said Melissa Benson, an attorney specializing in housing law with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.
Pending eviction cases that were canceled due to the court shutdown will get rescheduled in coming weeks and months, Benson said.
While landlords can still file eviction cases for whatever reason, such as drugs, crime, or failure to pay rent, “what a landlord cannot do is force you out of the house right now without going to court.”
Benson encouraged anyone being forced out of their lodging during the crisis to call police on a non-emergency number. There is a court process to evict someone that must be followed, under a bailiff’s supervision, and it’s illegal for landlords to change locks, shut off utilities or engage in other hardball tactics, she said.
In fact, the city isn’t shutting off anyone’s utilities right now, and has even gone back and restored any shutoff since January because of the stay-at-home order, said Tracie Davies, city director of Public Utilities.
“We are not going to disconnect for nonpayment,” even though residents are still required to pay, Davies said. She reminded residents that, during a time when toilet paper has vanished from many store shelves, to never flush wipes, paper towels, napkins or anything besides TP down the toilet. Doing so can clog city sewer mains and cause sewage backups in residential basements.
Council President Shannon Hardin thanked residents for the “kindness and grace that our community has exhibited over the last month.”
“We’re all in this together,” Hardin said. “We’re all working to flatten the curve and get on the other side of this.”
Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown urged residents to continue to tough out the stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of the virus, and protect the capacity of the health-care system to treat high-risk victims.
“I know it doesn’t feel like an act of greatness,” Brown said, “but it is an act of great compassion.”
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