National report on coronavirus cases in Salem isn’t what it seems, health commissioner says


The New York Times identified Salem as having the fifth-highest COVID-19 daily growth rate, but Wes Vins said it's missing one key fact

SALEM, Ohio (WKBN) – There’s been so much data to look at with the coronavirus — total cases, deaths, hospitalizations and testing. A national report found one snippet of the numbers ranked a city in Columbiana County quite high.

A graphic in The New York Times identified places where outbreaks might come next. Sitting at #5 is Salem.

Columbiana County health commissioner Wes Vins doesn’t believe it’s a fair or accurate representation of what’s happening in the county or Salem.

“The main reason is that the main population that caused the increase is, essentially, already isolated under quarantine,” he said.

Vins thinks the numbers are skewed because they’re coming from the federal prison at Elkton, 25 minutes away. There’s been an increase in testing as part of its surveillance to get a better understanding of COVID-19 in the prison population.

“We do know they’re not transporting those prisoners outside of the prison, so that tells me the severity of the illnesses are able to be handled by internal staff there at the federal prison,” he said.

Vins said the prison is under its own jurisdiction and those individuals are not part of the larger community in Columbiana County.

But The New York Times research ranks Salem as the fifth-highest average daily growth rate of coronavirus cases, saying the cases double every 11 days.

“The increase that shows up on that graphic in The New York Times is not alarming to me, based on the data we have and we look at it every single day. We have not seen that dramatic increase,” Vins said.

The New York Times has not responded to our questions about how it calculated the number reflecting Salem.

Vins said what he is looking for in the numbers is the impact of this gradual reopening in Ohio. He encourages people to keep respecting social distancing, wearing masks and handwashing. He said it’s working across the Mahoning Valley.

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