Dr. Ajay Chawla is the health commissioner and medical director for the city of Shelby as shown in a photo from earlier this year.

SHELBY — With the coronavirus continuing its surge across Ohio, Shelby’s medical leader is providing insights on the pandemic’s impact on the community.

“We have been through a difficult time, and I think that is what is going on right now,” Dr. Ajay Chawla, Shelby’s health commissioner and medical director, told the city's Health Department Advisory Committee at its latest meeting. “It’s not going to get better for the next several weeks,” he added, later mentioning a three-to-six-month timeframe.

“This virus is a very, very, potent virus,” Chawla also said in his Nov. 12 remarks. “It’s lethal. It’s a killer, and it affects the population.”

A map released Friday by Richland Public Health showed 36 active cases within the 44875 ZIP Code, which includes Shelby.

In talking about state coronavirus data, Chawla spoke of a “rapid increase in cases” in the region.

“We have so many patients at our office, in the hospital, employees, nurses, doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists in Mansfield,” Chawla said. “Many of them have been positive.”

Earlier, he said he had been exposed to a patient in Shelby. “We had three patients last week (week Nov. 2) who were diagnosed, and we had been around those patients," Chawla said. "A lot of people have actually been exposed to patients who are COVID-positive and not even know that.”

Shelby Hospital as of Nov. 12 was not admitting COVID-19 patients with those people being transferred to Mansfield for care, Chawla said.

“But Mansfield is running short,” Chawla told the committee. “They actually have opened up another wing in the hospital to admit COVID-19. There’s so many patients hospitalized, they are running short of the beds and the staff.”

“There is going be a challenge where we have only admit people who are absolutely needing a ventilator or needing something more than just the oxygen,” Chawla said.

“In fact, many people will be sent home from the ER. We can’t admit everybody with COVID-19 to the hospital,” Chawla continued. “We hope that we don’t come to the stage where we have to decide which person to live…who (is) not to live. But we have been running short on our beds, our supplies, our staff. And it’s going to be a challenge.”

Chawla also is the medical director for Crestwood Care Nursing Home, which had a “disease outbreak,” he told the committee. “We had five cases of COVID-19 at Crestwood in the last one month,” Chawla said.

“All of them recovered,” he said. “They were treated in the facility…”

As of Nov. 12, three of the people were off isolation and two were needing isolation/quarantine, Chawla told the committee. “Out of the staff, there are seven staff members currently infected,” Chawla said on Nov. 12. “And they are all doing well. Nobody is hospitalized. “

Crestwood is doing COVID-19 testing twice a week on all of the employees and all residents “so they can pick up cases early on and quarantine them much before they spread the disease,” Chawla said.

In earlier remarks during the meeting, Chawla noted “a lot of anxiety” in the community involving COVID-19.

“We have families being quarantined and there’s some kind of, I guess, a panic attack,” he told the committee Nov. 12. “How will we be able to isolate their close contact, how close is a close contact?"

Chawla reported receiving a call from an unspecified church earlier this month.  "There was a lady who worked there was positive," Chawla said to the committee. "She works with six other people in the same department…The good thing is nothing really happened to the people who worked with her. She and her husband were both in quarantine and other people could work. They are all asymptomatic.”

“Most of the cases we have seen are people who actually are working people like us, go to the job or go places where they got infected like prison, Home Depot, grocery stores here in town, hospitals, other places,” Chawla also told the committee. “Most cases we see are people who are exposed to at work or other places of employment.”

He also spoke of schools, saying a school is “not the most common source of spreading this infection.”

“I feel our city has been very progressive in terms of keeping the disease under control and the students safer,” Chawla later said.

“I feel that even though we are not able to control the disease as much as we’d like to, we are doing everything we can right now,” he also said.

Officials reported that due to the coronavirus impacting the Shelby City Health Department's staffing, Shelby’s COVID-19 case statistics were being handled by Richland Public Health, which also was doing Shelby contact tracing for new and current cases.

Shelby Mayor Steve Schag said that he had spoken to the Richland County Emergency Management Agency, as well, in providing contact tracing help.

“The load is going to be heavier,” Schag said. “They have trained volunteers. It looks like we will be engaging the services of trained volunteers to help with contact tracing in these coming weeks.”

In other comments, Chawla spoke of the upcoming holiday.

“I know Thanksgiving is coming in, but I suggest if you can, have a private Thanksgiving and not have a group of people and not visit anybody,” he said.

Chawla later spoke of his personal plans. “I am not having my daughter come to my home this Thanksgiving, even though that’s the one thing we look forward to — meet our kids.”

To view the Shelby City Health Department Advisory Committee meeting, an internet link is available at A link also is available through the city of Shelby’s website on the City Council page.

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