By Lee Bratcher/OC Monitor
HARTFORD, Ky. — The Ohio County Chamber of Commerce held its first-ever virtual meeting, and its first meeting since its February 2020 meeting. During the meeting, the 1st Quarter 2021 Chamber Excellence Award was announced and Ohio County Judge-Executive David Johnston gave his 11th annual State of the County Address. During his address, Johnston urged Ohio Countians to get the COVID-19 vaccine in hopes things can “get back to normal.”
To begin the April 24 meeting, Chamber President Sarah Stone-Tinsley welcomed those watching on livestream and named Ohio County Schools as the recipient of the 1st Quarter 2021 Chamber Excellence Award.
As the recipient of the 1st Quarter Chamber Excellence Award, Ohio County Schools will be a candidate for the Chamber Member of the Year Award handed out at the Chamber’s year-end Christmas Gala.
Ohio County Schools Superintendent Seth Southard was at the meeting to accept the award.
“Thank you very much for this award, it certainly does mean a lot personally, after having worked with the Chamber for the last six years,” Southard said. “It’s been a challenging year (for Ohio County Schools) and we’ve dealt with a lot of unique obstacles, but I feel like everyone has worked so hard and that we’ll continue to do the best service that we can provide for our students.”
Next Stone-Tinsley introduced Johnston to address the Chamber and the county at large.
Johnston opened his address, by saying this year’s State of the County Address would be a bit different, “because there’s never been a year quite like this past one and the one we’re still in.” With that being said, however, Johnston believed the state of the county was “good.”
Johnston spoke about how the county, and the world, found themselves in the middle of a pandemic and how it affected the county.
“It’s been devastating to our county. We’ve lost (54) people (due to COVID-19 related complications), at least. There may be more after all the evaluations are done. And we’ve had over 3,000 that have been ill with (the virus), that we know of,” Johnston said.
The loss of over 50 Ohio Countians was bad enough, but Johnston also spoke of how the pandemic devastated the economy of Ohio County.
“Businesses had to be closed, and then later, there were restrictions, and it’s going to take a long time for people to get back into their habits of going to the places that they did before,” Johnston said. “Many businesses took big blows, some to the point that they couldn’t remain open or reopen.”
While the county’s businesses were badly hurt, one of the positives during the pandemic, according to Johnston, was Ohio County government was able to continue its services.
“(Ohio County government) has not discontinued any of its services, and as a matter of fact, in some areas, we’ve really stepped up the game, like on the delivery of homebound meals from the (Ohio County) Senior Center,” Johnson said. “We never had to close our maintenance crews or anything of that nature.”
Johnston next spoke about what to expect for the upcoming year and beyond. Johnston has a goal, over the next few years, to change the subject of many residents from roads to economic development or quality of life.
Johnston would like to spend more time and energy on ridding the county of its drug issues. Rather than letting law enforcement do all the work, Johnston said the residents of Ohio County also need to do their part.
“We’re going to have to look at prevention first, and treatment second,” Johnston said. “I look forward to getting some boards and committees in place to do that in the next year.”
Another issue Johnston wants to address in the next year, and coming years is the lack of reliable broadband internet in the county. While the fiscal court and others have worked on bringing this utility to the county, so far, those efforts haven’t solved the problem.
Johnston said he would appoint a committee to look into the issue.
“(This committee will) try to seek out the expertise, and we’ll probably spend some money on studying the issue, to figure out just where the need is and what it’s going to take to solve it,” Johnston said. “I get more calls on broadband problems than I do on roads, or stray animals and those things we’ve been addressing. Now, (the lack of) broadband is the very biggest complaint I get.”
Johnston wrapped up his address by speaking on “the most important thing that I’m going to touch on today,” which was the COVID-19 vaccine and the need for every resident to get it.
“We’ve got the vaccine in the county. Anyone who wants it can go get it. Now we’re at the point where we need to preach, ‘Everybody come get that vaccine,’” Johnston said.
Johnston said, in the past, residents were asking when would the county get the vaccine and now that the vaccine is here, he and health officials are asking the residents, “Where are you at?”
“We’re shy about 50% being where we should be with (those adults) 18 (years) and up (being vaccinated),” Johnston said. “Please, get out there and get that vaccine. Preach it to your employees, to your family, to whatever venue you have, get the word out. (The vaccine) is the answer to us getting back to normal.”
Johnston spoke about his getting the vaccine, saying he got it for more than one reason.
“I wanted to protect myself, but I also wanted to show the public that this is what we should do and I wanted to set an example by saying, ‘Hey, I got mine, you need to get it,’” Johnston said. “Now we’re at the point where more, and more, people need to get it.”
Johnston was hopeful, that if all eligible Ohio Ciuntians got the vaccine, the county would “get back to normal.”
Ohio County Healthcare COVID-19 Moderna Vaccination Clinic has moved to the Ohio County Family Care building in Hartford. If you got your first dose at the hospital before May 3, go to the OCFC location for your booster dose. Online scheduling is still available at OCHcares.com or call 270-215-9082.
You can also check your local pharmacy to see if the vaccine is offered there and get it.