CLEVELAND — State officials spoke Feb. 27 about Ohio’s readiness for the potential outbreak of the Coronavirus.
“The threat of the Coronavirus in the United States and in Ohio remains low,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said. “Currently in Ohio, we have no confirmed cases — we have no confirmed cases — nor any persons under investigation.”
DeWine reported that seven individuals were tested for the Coronavirus in Ohio and all of them tested negative.
“But — we know that this could change and we have to be prepared,” DeWine said. “All Ohioans must have a sense of urgency about this emerging health threat.”
Coronavirus — otherwise known as COVID-19 — is a respiratory virus strain that has only spread in people since December 2019, according to a press release from DeWine’s office. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has continually considered the health risk from Coronavirus to be low within the United States.
However, the Coronavirus is an international concern and, according to DeWine , there is potential for an eventual community person-to-person spread to occur in the United States.
“I strongly encourage everyone else across the State of Ohio who run businesses, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other facilities — that if you haven’t done these things already, to examine your existing disease plans and consider additional measures,” DeWine said. “Now is the time to review what you’re doing once again, now is the time for a sense of urgency.”
DeWine made the following orders in preparation of the potential outbreak of the Coronavirus:
— The Ohio Department of Transportation is to post messages by the Ohio Department of Health about hand-washing protocols at rest areas. Messages will also be posted on Ohio Travel TV.
— The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections and the Ohio Department of Youth Services must increase the use of disinfection measures to protect inmates, families and staff.
— Universities and college leaders should urge every student, faculty member and employee to get a flu shot if they have not already done so. Leaders are also being urged to prohibit travel to nations where the CDC has recommended travel avoidance, such as China and South Korea. Leaders were also asked to accommodate students who are studying abroad if they need to return to Ohio.
— All Ohioans should practice mindfulness of foreign travel by monitoring the CDC website for updates.
— The Ohio Department of Aging will continue to work with local aging networks to identify the most vulnerable elder adults, who have the highest needs, to ensure their needs are met by providing additional meals and medication. Local aging advocates were also asked to check on local nursing facilities to ensure all illness prevention methods are in-place.
— Aggressive attention will be paid to common areas among state facilities with increased cleaning and hand sanitizer stations.
A summit will be held Thursday, March 5 in Columbus for local health department partners, health commissioners and staff. A number of state cabinet members will be present as well.
The governor emphasized the importance of communicating information about the virus to keep Ohioans informed. DeWine committed to “communicate what we know when we know it,” and highlighted that the state will continue to work with Ohio’s 113 local health departments.
“I am urging all Ohioans to listen to public health and medical experts. They train for this, they prepare for this, this is what they do every single day. We need to heed what they tell us,” DeWine said. “We need all Ohioans to help.”
DeWine recommended that Ohioans in their day-to-day actions wash their hands, avoid close contact with sick individuals, and stay home when they are ill. Ohio employers and schools were urged by DeWine to be flexible when people are ill and encourage individuals to stay home if they are under the weather.
Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, emphasized that Ohio stands ready.
“Infectious diseases are something we know,” Acton said. “Even when there is a new infectious disease, they are predictably unpredictable. In other words, pandemics and the spread of infectious disease happens in a phased way and happens in patterns. While we might not know exactly where it might spread first or where the one case in Ohio might occur, we really know what to do about it when it happens.”
“I want Ohioans to know that this system is working,” Acton added. “In looking around our country, I felt that we are very prepared. We’ve taken a very conservative and sort of aggressive approach.”
She explained that the Coronavirus looks similar to the flu.
“It’s very contagious, it’s particularly catchy,” Acton said. “In terms of its morbidity and disease state, it’s a little more dangerous as the flu, but it’s not as dangerous as things we’ve dealt with in the past, like Ebola or SARS or MERS.”
Acton reported that symptoms are similar to the flu involving fever, coughing and body aches and can be spread while individuals are asymptomatic. Acton explained that some individuals may contract the virus without realizing it. However, individuals such as the elderly or immunocompromised are more vulnerable. No vaccine for the Coronavirus is available, and Acton said it will take another year to year and a half to develop one.
“In Ohio, we currently remain very low-risk,” Acton said.
Some individuals were asked to quarantine themselves after traveling and work with disease detectives to monitor their health. Acton shared that most of those self-quarantined individuals had “graduated” from doing so and were cleared of the virus. Thirty three counties in Ohio have had travellers.
Acton said more will be learned about the Coronavirus “hour-by-hour” and emphasized the importance of learning about the virus from a trusted source. State officials created Coronavirus.ohio.gov to share information with the public.
Contact Whitney Vickers at 937-502-4532.