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Local Health Official Describes Fighting COVID-19 from the Grassroots

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Dr. James R. Gaskell has been a physician for over 50 years specializing in pediatrics. He also is the Health Commission of Athens City and County in Southeastern Ohio.

When he took that job 20 years ago, he certainly didn’t expect to be fighting a major pandemic from the bottom up—from the grassroots front lines.

He normally does his job in a small Appalachian community and rural county. His major fights concern populations who are impoverished, unemployed, and often opiate addicted.

At the other end of the economic spectrum, his area also is the home of a major residential university…Ohio University, with nearly 19,000 undergraduates, graduate students and medical students from all over the world on the main campus. This adds to the disparate nature of the populations he serves.

As the Coronavirus entered our country early in 2020, his job changed.

His days now consist of making sure testing is available for his people (although it was slow trickling down to the rural areas), preparing local hospitals for potential surges, assuring that nursing homes are as safe as possible, and informing his various populations about the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also acts as a major liaison with Ohio University to help determine whether students will be back on campus this fall and if so, under what conditions. He consults with the university’s medical team attempting to find the safest way possible to have students congregate again.

In addition, Dr. Gaskell heads the local enforcement team to assure everyone that State Department of Health rules and regulations are being followed in re-opening his state’s economy.

He is part of a law enforcement and licensing team to assure the public that restaurants and bars are functioning with appropriate safeguards and social distancing.

He also spends a great deal of time in teleconferences with state health officials who are working daily with the Governor to keep Ohio as safe as possible while re-opening.

Dr. Gaskell tells us the unvarnished story of what it’s like to be on the front lines battling this virus from the trenches instead of the mountaintop.