I-Team Investigation: COVID-19 Hot Spots

An I-Team investigation revealed Gov. Mike DeWine’s declaration last month 10 Miami Valley zip codes were COVID-19 hot spots were solely based on cumulative COVID-19 cases.

“The previous zip code maps shared during one of the 2:00 p.m. press conferences were simply the cumulative number of cases reported by zip code of residence,” Ohio Department of Health spokesperson Rachel Feeley said in a statement. “These maps did not take into account any additional data points other than cases.”

The I-Team request to interview a Dept. of Health representative was denied twice. However, responding in a series of statements, the I-Team learned the state now plans to only use its new  seven factor alert system to flag local health departments about COVID-19 concerns at the county level. 

>>Coronavirus: State health alert levels for COVID-19 cases

“There was no previous “system” used to determine hot spots by zip code, the maps simply showed case counts by zip code for a visual during one of the press conferences,” Feeman added. “The Public Health Advisory System is what we’re using now. Alerts are based at the county level only, and that is the current plan moving forward. Zip codes may be mentioned at some other point in the future, but as of now we plan to use the advisory system as it works off of more refined data than just case counts alone.”

Adding context, DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney told WHIO the hot spot zip codes were announced while the administration was in the process of creating the new alert system.

Of the mayors the I-Team contacted from each Miami Valley county labeled a hot spot, in Greene County, Fairborn Mayor Paul Keller expressed the most concern.

“That [hot spot] essentially says ‘don’t go to Fairborn,’” Keller said. “That misrepresents us.”

Keller’s worry is based on what he feels is a lack context, saying the Fairborn zip code in question extends beyond his city’s limits.

Fairborn Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Matt Owen, told the I-Team, out of the nearly 100 businesses he has talked to, none has mentioned the COVID-19 hot spot designation as a concern for hurting their business. Instead, their focus is state regulations.

“Several businesses have voiced concern about Gov. DeWine’s strict state regulations for restaurants, bars, retail and service businesses. These businesses relay on walk in traffic and their sales are way down since reopening,” Owen said. 

In Montgomery County, Trotwood Mayor Mary McDonald and in Clark County, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland, were less concerned with their communities being designated COVID-19 hot spots.  

“I think bringing attention to the fact that our numbers are going up is what has to happen right now,” McDonald said.  “We really need to level out this spread. And until people take this seriously, we won’t be able to do it.”

Copeland, who does not think Springfield has any ongoing problem, instead thinks 138 Clark County Dole Plant employees testing COVID-19 positive led to his city’s hot spot designation.

“I’m not sure the average citizen even knows about that that much, and I don’t know that it has a lot of effect,” Copeland said. “I think we are increasingly attempting to get people to wear masks, which they’ve been reluctant to do.”

Earlier this summer, Springfield city leaders required everyone to wear a mask in public.

“Distancing and masks are the two basic messages that we want people to hear,” Copeland added.

McDonald is concerned not enough Trotwood residents are taking the pandemic seriously.

“It’s not personal. It’s not political. It simply says we need to take closer attention to what’s happening in our community and with our people,” McDonald said.

That is where all leaders seem to agree.  They say their universal focus remains on keeping their communities healthy and safe.

“We need to respond to what the experts are telling us. At this point the lead issue is wearing that mask when you’re out in the public,” Springfield Mayor Copeland said.

“We publish and relay the governor’s guidelines, you know wear the mask, wash the hands, keep the physical distancing,” Fairborn Mayor Keller added. “We take all the precautions on that. We encourage the outdoor activities.  Just stay safe.”

“We simply want people to take this very seriously,” McDonald said. “You know, we have so many people here that we love and that we care about. And until it happens to one of them, the point’s not being driven home. And we really need to drive the point home that you wear the mask for protection. Not only for yourself, but for others as well.” 

WHIO’s request to interview Lebanon Mayor Amy Brewer to include perspective from a Warren County designated hot spot community was not returned.

Matthew Simon

Matthew Simon

I'm proud to lead the I-Team, News Center 7's investigative and special reports unit. During my 20 yrs in the business, I've always admired WHIO-TV as the best in the business. I couldn't resist the opportunity when WHIO-TV recruited me to join their team as Special Projects Executive Producer. Watch my in-depth I-team reports on News Center 7.