Ohio remains prepared as coronavirus spreads

The threat of the new coronavirus remains low in Ohio, but Gov. Mike DeWine said this could change, so officials must be prepared for the possible entrance of the virus that’s been spreading in other parts of globe.

“We will communicate what we know, when we know it,” DeWine said, speaking at a Thursday afternoon press conference in Cleveland.

Since news of the outbreak began earlier this year, public health officials have worked to be prepared, fight the spread of misinformation and stay ahead of an evolving situation as the world rapidly learns about the newly discovered coronavirus.

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The outbreak has disrupted many local businesses with ties to China, sent the stock market into a correction, and led to an advisory for colleges to cancel trips to impacted areas. As of Friday afternoon, there had been 84,124 total confirmed cases around the world, with 78,834 in mainland China. There were also 2,867 deaths and 36,687 recovered from the disease.

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio nor anyone currently under investigation for the virus as of Friday.

Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said DeWine wants people to take the outbreak seriously, but the message is to be prepared, not to panic.

Good handwashing is going to remain important stop the spread of any diseases.

“There was a study done when H1N1 was around in 2009 and when schools instituted twice a day to stop all kids to wash hands 20 seconds, they decreased the spread of H1N1 flu 50%,” Acton said.

State response

On Thursday, DeWine made several orders to state agencies such as asking Ohio Department of Transportation to post information from the Ohio Department of Health in all state rest areas on hand washing protocols including messages on Ohio Travel TV.

The Departments of Rehabilitation and Corrections and Youth Services will increase frequency and use of disinfectant measures in all their state facilities to protect inmates, families, and staff.

Ohio Department of Aging will keep working with local aging networks on plans to meet the needs of vulnerable older adults, whether that is providing additional meals or additional medication or other personal care needs. DeWine also asked local aging advocates to check on nursing care facilities to ensure that all illness prevention methods are in place.

Vice President Mike Pence said Friday that the federal government is prepared to assist the states if the coronavirus spreads significantly across the country — an eventuality he called unlikely.

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Pence told a brief press conference in Florida that as a former Indiana governor he understands the need for state and federal partnerships in dealing with a potential health crisis. President Donald Trump appointed Pence on Wednesday to oversee the administration’s response to the coronavirus.

DeWine said the state will be convening Thursday for a summit in Columbus for all of Ohio’s local public health departments and health commissioners and staff that will include members of the Governor’s Cabinet.

Public Health- Dayton & Montgomery County officials previously said they have been touching base with the travelers from China who have been identified at their airport of entry by the CDC. Public health workers check in every day with the returning travelers who are asymptomatic but self isolating as a precaution for 14 days, during which the returning travelers monitor their temperature twice a day and monitor for any respiratory symptoms.

If someone would get sick, health officials would use the same protocol they have for other communicable diseases where they would trace who the sick individual had been in contact with, which lets people who do not hear from public health officials to know they haven’t had contact with a person with a confirmed case.

With the viral spread of disease, misinformation has also gone viral on Facebook, YouTube and around other social media.

MORE: Schools work to disinfect buildings as flu cases increase

Health officials last week emphasized the health and safety importance of only sharing information about the outbreak from trusted sources. The World Health Organization, the CDC, and local and state health departments have been continuously updating their information.

The state will also be updating information at coronavirus.ohio.gov.

“If you hear maybe one person say something about how severe it is, and someone say ‘it’s not,’ people don’t know what to believe, and so they start clicking to learn … our commitment and the governor’s commitment Ohioans, is we will tell you everything we know as we know it,” Acton said.

Schools and businesses prepare

DeWine asked college and university leaders to prohibit college travel to nations where the CDC has recommended no travel, and to urge every student and faculty member to receive a flu shot. He also asked college and universities to take appropriate action to accommodate students studying abroad.

With crowds of students and staff in close daily contact, schools can struggle with the spread of illness. Ohio Department of Education officials said they’re already working regularly with other agencies.

“We have communicated information to schools from the Ohio Department of Health about best practices for reducing the spread of illness, as well as information about current disease concerns such as the flu and coronavirus,” ODE spokeswoman Mandy Minick said.

It’s already been a busy winter on the illness front, as the Franklin school district closed for two days in early February due to widespread illness, and Centerville and others did the same for a day in late January. Those breaks allowed school staff to do a deep cleaning and disinfecting of their buildings.

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Kenna Haycox, senior policy consultant for the Ohio School Boards Association, said COVD-19 is just coming onto schools’ radar, and she got her very first request for COVD-19 information from a school district Wednesday.

“Districts usually have a plan in place for managing illnesses and highly contagious outbreaks,” Haycox said. “A lot of that is usually driven by their county health department.”

Haycox compared the current outbreak to the 2014 ebola scare in northeast Ohio. Health officials know about both diseases, but things change when there’s a more local issue.

“On things like this in past, once there’s been more of an Ohio-specific outbreak, you see a lot more information,” Haycox said. “We haven’t seen enough of an alert right now to say, hey, you should have this (system) in place.”

The outbreak has impacted the stock market and disrupted many businesses that work internationally.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 357.28, a 1.39 percent drop on Friday. The S&P 500 fell 24.54, a 0.82 percent drop.

The S&P 500 has suffered its speediest 10 percent decline from an all-time high in history. And the Dow Jones Industrial Average was headed for its worst week since the start of the 2008 global financial upheaval.

What’s “unsettling” about this correction is that it seems to be driven by fear and emotion, not economic fundamentals, said William Wood, a certified financial planner with Adams Wealth Management Group in Centerville.

“That makes this more difficult to interpret and read,” Wood said last week.

MORE: Ohio flu-related hospital visits still rising

Prepared and waiting

Sarah Hackenbracht, president and CEO of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, said there are on-going conversations among GDAHA committees that address infection control, operations, emergency response, and public affairs to address the needs of the multifaceted teams hospitals have established as part of their incident command structure.

Local hospitals are tracking and monitoring supplies through a program called Surgenet as they did with H1N1 and Ebola. Supply information can be updated in real-time by hospital staff and shared with GDAHA and the Ohio Department of Health in the event preparedness supply caches need to be accessed.

“As a region, we are also talking to our regional and state hospital association counterparts in California to learn from their real-time experiences with the novel coronavirus, including the first community transmission case and the experience of having quarantined individuals in their region at Travis Air Force Base, as well as their workforce and supply preparations,” Hackenbracht said.

What is COVID-19?

The virus at the center of the outbreak, COVID-19, is part of a large family of different coronaviruses that may cause mild to severe respiratory illnesses. Many people have had some type of coronavirus in their life, such as common cold.

Sometimes a novel — or a new type — of coronavirus starts to circulate among people.

This happened with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2014, and now COVID-19, which started spreading in December.

Some people infected with COVID-19 have had little to no symptoms while other people have become severely ill.

How to prevent COVID-19 and other illnesses

The risk remains low in Ohio, with no confirmed cases found in the state. In general, good prevention measures are also the same steps we should already be taking to reduce the risk of getting many other common illnesses such as the flu, which has already hospitalized 7,500 Ohioans this season.

  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick
  • Eat well balanced meals and get adequate sleep
  • Wash hands often with water and soap for 20 seconds or longer
  • Dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands or after touching surfaces
  • Clean and disinfect "high touch" surfaces often, such as door handles
  • Call before seeing your doctor