Health Commissioner talks ending mask requirements, tout’s vaccine effectiveness

By Bill Shope - For The Daily Times

Dr. Michael Martin

Dr. Michael Martin

File photo

SCIOTO — While the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the state are continuing to decline at a steady pace, the question of whether Scioto County is exiting the pandemic stage of the virus and entering the endemic stage has been at the forefront of many discussions regarding the future of the disease.

According to information provided by the Mayo Clinic, one month ago, the average positive test rate over the last 30 days in the Buckeye state reveals that the average positive test rate was dropped from 35% in mid-January to just 8% in the second week of February.

According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Ohio’s case and virus-related hospitalizations continue to fall-as of Wednesday the state-health agency said there were more than 1,300 new cases down nearly 800 from the prior week. The state positivity rate also dropped to 6.1%. Ohio’s moving average shows we are averaging around 2,000 new cases a day and declining.

So, given the recent statewide data, The Portsmouth Daily Times asked Dr. Michael Martin, the Scioto County Health Commissioner if Scioto County will be heading in that direction or is there a possibility we see higher transmission numbers again this year?

“I’m excited-I believe we are about to enter into an endemic stage with the pandemic ending. A number of people appear to be developing some immunity, either through natural infection from the omicron variant or from the vaccine and a subsequent booster shot. Of course, the safest and most effective path to immunity is to get the vaccine which we are still strongly advocating and we are also pushing the booster which has given us the added protection we need to keep us out of the hospital.”

Martin added, “I know everyone keeps asking about the mask and I am aware everyone wants to get rid of it, but I think there will come a point in time where a number of people will keep their masks and when we are around people that are coughing and sneezing, in a crowded area, we’ll pull our mask out and get it back on. Masks have been very effective in slowing down the spread of COVID and they have been extremely effective in slowing down cases of the flu, as we have seen.”

The numbers back up Martin’s point regarding the flu statewide, Ohio had 33 confirmed influenza cases two weeks ago, according to ODH. At the same point, pre-pandemic, there were in excess of 900 flu-related hospital admissions, even though current cases appear to be more severe.

So, Dr. Martin, what’s your final word on masks in public and in schools?

“If your outside and spread out, I don’t believe that masks would be necessary. However, our numbers are coming down like a rock, even though I suspect a great number of virus cases remain unreported. It is a nice tail wind to have behind us, but I believe at the moment, each school district locally, should look at removing mask mandates at this point,” Martin said. “I know that it has to be difficult from a communication standpoint for both students and staff members which I know could be a point when it comes to the quality of education, so it would be my recommendation that each school district honestly assesses their situation and make a decision based on their own levels of risk. So, I guess I’m pushing toward trending to not having to wear a mask all of the time at school.”

Martin also addressed the question of whether the pandemic has changed the practice of medicine in the region now and in the foreseeable future.

“Yes, I believe it has and will- there will be major changes. It would not surprise me to see masks still being a requirement when you come to the hospital as either a patient or visitor. You could certainly understand that, you have a lot of people that are immune compromised in that type of facility and no one wants to transmit any kind of illness to those at-risk individuals,” Martin said. “I also believe there is going to be a backlog of cancer cases and heart disease as well as other ailments that could have possibly been prevented because people did not come to the hospital due to COVID. Some hospitals shut down their elective surgeries for quite a while.”

Martin also commented on what he believes was the root cause of misinformation surrounding the pandemic and the vaccine, telling the Daily Times, “The vaccine availability was incredible. We live in a free society and if someone didn’t want to get vaccinated, they didn’t have to, even though it was in their and others’ best interest. A nationwide mandate would not have helped, either. I have the conversation regarding the vaccine every day at some point with the patients I see and I guess it comes down to being able to be independent or even doing what’s right. I have been disappointed in our vaccination numbers-when we look at the demographics of counties that show high vaccination rates, you also see a higher median income and education level, such as in Delaware County. I will guarantee you, if you ask expert’s opinions, you’ll see they have been vaccinated as have their families and children.”

Martin finished the interview by praising his new digs in the Scioto County Courthouse Annex as well as the efforts of his staff, who have battled the pandemic on a daily basis for two years.

“We moved over there several months ago and it has been a great improvement. There is an elevator there in case you have difficulty navigating stairs. I think our square footage has quadrupled, we are not working on top of each other any longer. I want to thank the Scioto County Commissioners for rehabbing the space,” Martin said. “Along with our great new facility, we also have a wonderful staff that is dedicated to serving the citizens of this county. They all work hard and I am appreciative of every single one of their efforts every single day.”

For more information about all vaccine and booster availability, contact the Scioto County Health Department at 740-353-8358. The Department is open, Monday through Friday, from 8;30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Dr. Michael Martin Michael Martin File photo

By Bill Shope

For The Daily Times