COVID-19: The curious case of Vinton County

By: - April 16, 2020 12:45 am

The final design Annie Jackson is putting on shirts as Vinton County becomes the only county in the state without a confirmed case of coronavirus. Photo: Facebook

With March Madness cancelled this year and levity hard to find amid a pandemic, the lone county without a confirmed case of coronavirus has decided to take their championship trophy any way they can get it. 

Annie Jackson works at the prosecutors office in Vinton County, and when the slow creep of confirmed cases made its way through the state, the focus was on the remaining counties, including her county.

As a crafty person, Jackson has made t-shirts for random events, and her boss, Prosecutor Trecia Kimes-Brown saw this as an opportunity. The pandemic had put projects on hold in the county, including their continuing fight against the opioid epidemic.

“Last week, when it was only four counties left (without confirmed cases), (Kimes-Brown) asked me if I would make her a Final Four shirt to try to add levity to a very bad situation,” Jackson told the Capital Journal. 

Jackson made the shirt, and posted the design on Facebook. The interest in the shirts became a desire for a championship shirt if Vinton County “won” the coronavirus creep. On Wednesday, it was announced they had become the last.

With a population of 13,000 among a rural, forested 400 square miles, Vinton County hasn’t done anything different than any other county in terms of pandemic precautions, according to the county health department. 

“We do not believe this is any indication that the virus is not here, we just haven’t had anyone that meets the testing criteria, including being critically ill, test positive,” Vinton County Health Department deputy administrator, director of environmental health and public information officer Janelle McManis told the Capital Journal.

Testing becomes more complicated in a county that doesn’t have a hospital of its own. If a physician orders a test, it’s sent to a neighboring county like Athens or Jackson, who then analyzes the test. 

McManis said the county has been reporting the information they receive on the number of individuals tested.

“Since there is not a requirement that this information be reported to our department, this is probably only a fraction of the number of individuals that have actually been tested,” she said.

Despite having no cases now, Dr. Amy Acton of the Ohio Department of Health has said for weeks that there is no doubt in her mind that the virus exists, and will eventually bring positive cases to every county. 

In a county with no hospitals and only one grocery store, poor economic conditions and food insecurity live inside and outside the times of pandemic. Jackson sees this is just another opportunity to use her creativity to help.

Demand has exploded for her t-shirts, so proceeds are going to Blessing Boxes, a group of boxes in which county residents place donations of food. Prosecutor Kimes-Brown and other sponsors are adding donations for every shirt purchased. In less than 24 hours, they raised about $1,000.

Jackson said the project shouldn’t be seen as making light of the serious situation, and called it a “nearly impossible situation to cope with each day.”

“We merely want the state to understand that with more resources, our potential is even greater,” Jackson said.

To order a shirt or donate to the cause, contact Jackson on Facebook.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.