Health commissioners issue joint letter to the public.

CANTON The health commissioners of Canton, Massillon, Alliance, and the Stark County Health Department are urging people to stay vigilant in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

"A Word to Our Community" issued by commissioners Jim Adams of Canton, Terri Argent of Massillon, Randall Flint of Alliance, and Kirkland Norris (county), acknowledges that people are likely tired and frustrated by the restrictions, but emphasizes the need to continue measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

"It addresses some of the things we’re most concerned about, with the warmer weather coming and people getting out," Argent said. "But the virus is still out there, and we just wanted to get the word out there."

Saturday Argent got word of a large gathering of car enthusiasts at a former Kmart parking lot on Lincoln Way W. Police dispersed the crowd, which numbered into the hundreds.

"It wasn’t the cars that freaked me out, it was the people," Argent said, noting that there were double-digit groups of people co-mingling.

"The letter was the idea of our preparedness coordinator, Patty McConnell, and she was the principle author," Adams said. "I think she did a great job at expressing the concerns we all have at the health department. We are all concerned that the hard work that has been done by everyone over the last six weeks or so could be quickly undone. We need to remember that the virus that causes COVID-19 is still here, in our community, waiting for the chance to spread from person to person.

"Everyone has done a fantastic job of slowing the spread of this virus, but it has not gone away. Her idea was that we need to ‘stay the course’ to sustain the gains that we have made."

McConnell said that as the Canton Health Department’s social medial manager, she’s seeing more negative responses to the restrictions.

"We too are members of this community; not just public health employees, so we truly do understand how everyone feels," she said. "Our hope is that with the letter people will recognize the importance of taking it slowly so we don’t lose what we have gained, and continue to follow the recommendations of face coverings, physical distancing, and no mass gatherings. We have made it to this point. Opening up and moving forward, we are still in this together."

Adams said he worries most the public will drop its guard.

"Personally, my biggest concern is that we will forget that we now have to learn to live with COVID-19 in our community," he said. "We may have flattened the curve, but the virus has not gone away. As we open up our businesses, restaurants, and our lives, we must realize that things will not quite be the same. Much like we had to learn how to live with any other communicable disease, we have to understand that our actions may have consequences."

Adams added that as more is learned about the virus, "we can refine our actions to be more effective and less restrictive."

"It’s almost confusing," Argent said. "We want people to get out. The fresh air is good and the sunshine is good. I know people miss being with others, but you’ve got to be careful. This year’s gotta be a little different."