Wheeling City Officials Plea for Vigilance Against Virus Surge
WHEELING — Leaders in the city of Wheeling continue to urge local residents to come together as a community, follow recommended guidelines and help fight the COVID-19 pandemic as the winter season looms.
Members of Wheeling City Council met virtually Tuesday and took action on several pieces of legislation. Among them were seven ordinances authorizing the distribution of federal Community Development Block Grant money to local non-profit agencies to assist needy members of the community in the face of the pandemic.
Council members took action to consolidate the seven different ordinances and hear a second and final reading Tuesday in order to expedite the distribution of these funds, which were made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by way of the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act.
“There is an urgent need to get this money onto the street and into these agencies as quickly as possible,” said Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron, who recommended to council the legislation be approved immediately.
Allocations of the CDBG-Coronavirus funds will go to Catholic Charities, Elmhurst House of Friendship, Family Services of the Upper Ohio Valley, the Greater Wheeling Homeless Coalition, the North Wheeling Community Center, the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling Inc., Wheeling Health Right and Youth Service Systems. The total amount of these funds is nearly $750,000.
Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott noted that the area is entering the cold-weather months with concerns surrounding the pandemic at a high point, as Ohio County recently tipped into the red category on the statewide pandemic outbreak map.
“That’s not a good direction to be headed,” Elliott said. “We’re looking at numbers which continue to go up as has been predicted as we enter into the fall and winter season. There are more people inside and are getting together during the holidays.”
The mayor noted that Wheeling Hospital reportedly was starting to feel the pressure of the pandemic not only with an increased number of patients, but also an increasing number of employees who cannot come to work because of quarantine.
Elliott said almost every day, city leaders get a local COVID-19 pandemic update from Lou Vargo, director of the Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency office. Elliott said the city is working with local EMA, hospital and social service officials to provide whatever they can to help in the battle against the coronavirus and the recent surge.
“We at the city are willing to do whatever we can to work with them, to work with the county and to work with Wheeling Hospital to make sure we are prepared,” Elliott said, noting that the city-owned property that is the former Ohio Valley Medical Center is being utilized for various community needs in the wake of this crisis. “As I’ve said for many months now, one of the advantages we have is that we have a recently closed hospital facility sitting right in the middle of our city center. To the extent we can use that to help fight this pandemic in any way, shape or form, the city is willing to do so.”
Elliott noted that the city worked with Wheeling Hospital just last week to offer equipment from the former OVAC morgue to them in case capacity becomes a critical issue, and the city is working with YSS, which is temporarily relocated its Winter Freeze Shelter to the OVMC campus for increased space this winter.
“Anything we can do with that facility that doesn’t otherwise preclude us from marketing this into the future, we’re willing to do,” the mayor said. “We remain willing to work with everyone. We’re all community partners in this, but we have to come together as a community now before this Christmas season. We got past Thanksgiving, but we have to stay vigilant here.”
Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum agreed that everyone needs to do their part while this situation continues to change people’s routines during the holiday season.
“I think it’s incredibly important to stay socially distanced, particularly regarding small gatherings — which have been shown to be the culprit for this latest surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the country,” Ketchum said.
The mayor added that in addition to health concerns, the pandemic has had a negative impact on many local businesses throughout the year. He noted that last Saturday was Small Business Saturday, and he encouraged the public to continue supporting local businesses beyond just that one day.
“I know a lot of folks default to just go into Amazon.com because it’s so convenient and easy, and you can buy whatever you want there,” Elliott said. “But think about your local retailers. They need our support more than ever now.”
The mayor urged area residents to shop online with local businesses on their websites or take safety precautions to avoid crowds and shop at their stores.
“Also think of our local restaurants, as well,” he said. “All of them are hurting. Like I’ve said before, Amazon.com is going to survive this pandemic, but we have some local businesses which may not.”
In other action Tuesday, Elliott announced that the new Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Economic and Industrial Development is set to have its first meeting at 11 a.m. on Thursday virtually online. He said this is just a first “housekeeping meeting” to adopt bylaws and talk about some agenda items that will likely be discussed further at the committee’s first official meeting of the new year in January.
The public will be able to watch the meeting livestreamed on the city’s official Facebook page.