Governors and other leaders scrambling to slow the spread of the coronavirus stepped up bans on large public gatherings and a rapidly expanding list of universities moved classes online, as the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert Wednesday warned that the worst is yet to come.
With cases in the U.S. topping 1,000 and the number of deaths climbing to 31, lawmakers and health officials set up containment zones and sought to limit contact with those who might be infected. The outbreak has spread to more than half the states, with Arkansas and New Mexico reporting their first cases of the virus.
“Bottom line, it’s going to get worse,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Capitol Hill.
As for how much worse, Fauci said that would depend on the ability of the U.S. to curtail the influx of travelers carrying the disease and state and community efforts to contain the outbreak. He said if mild cases of the virus are counted, the mortality rate is probably about 1 percent — “roughly 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”
In Ohio, health officials say four people have tested positive for the virus that causes the disease COVID-19. The latest is a man in his 50s from Stark County in northeastern Ohio with no known contacts with other patients. Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton said this signals that Ohio has reached “community spread,” meaning the virus has moved across the state. Ohio is currently testing 24 people who have shown symptoms of respiratory distress and has cleared another 21 people.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
Locally, Fayette County Public Health (FCPH) is working on coronavirus (COVID-19) every single day although there are still zero confirmed cases here.
“We have also met with local agency partners to work together on information sharing, planning and response efforts, and we continue to work with our local agencies daily,” said Leigh Cannon, the deputy health commissioner with FCPH. “You should continue to monitor state and local news, but rely on FCPH for reliable information on COVID-19 right here in Fayette County.”
Information and guidance for COVID-19 changes daily. FCPH provides public information releases as needed and will keep information current on its Facebook page, Fayette County Public Health (OHIO) and links on its website at www.faycohd.org.
Here are the latest local facts and advice about the coronavirus, according to Cannon:
– Although there are no confirmed cases in Fayette County, there are four confirmed cases in Ohio and that means the state has reached “community spread.”
“While we do not want people to get too caught up in numbers, you can access the latest numbers at coronavirus.ohio.gov,” said Cannon.
– There are people in Ohio being tested for COVID-19. These patients are called Persons Under Investigation (PUI). Testing for COVID-19 is limited to sick patients who are high risk for developing severe symptoms. These people include older adults who are hospitalized with a respiratory illness and also have a chronic medical condition such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or have a compromised immune system.
– There are people in Ohio who traveled to countries with widespread COVID-19 cases, returned to Ohio, and have no symptoms of COVID-19 at all. These people are under Public Health Supervision (PHS). They are staying home away from other people, monitoring themselves for two weeks, and reporting in to their local public health department if they develop symptoms of COVID-19.
– Pay attention to travel bans. Do not go on any cruise ship. Do not travel to China, Iran, South Korea or Italy. You should seriously reconsider any travel plans to Japan. The latest CDC travel recommendations can be found at cdc.gov/travel
– Make active choices about group gatherings. You are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 if you are 1) an older adult, or 2) any age with a serious chronic medical condition like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, or you have a compromised immune system. By “active choices,” FCPH means stop for a moment before going out and think about the risk and the alternatives. Start doing things like: 1) watch religious services online, avoid large indoor events with lots of people, go to the grocery store when there are not a lot of people around, or use delivery services when you can. This does not mean stay home all of the time. It means decide what is necessary and what is not.
– Do not ask for testing. Healthcare workers consider all options and they consult with public health department staff. Let healthcare providers do their job. COVID-19 is not the only illness out there. Remember that testing is limited to those who are very sick and are high risk.
– Do not buy face masks. Face masks are for sick people and healthcare workers. That is it. Surgical masks work well to help limit the spread of illnesses from those who are already sick. Respirator masks are essential for our healthcare workers because they are in very close contact with sick people for long periods of time. Masks do not work well to help the general public stay healthy.
“We are working to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Ohio,” Cannon said. “You have heard this before, but prevention is still the best tool for COVID-19 across Ohio. Your personal choices are going to play a huge part in how this illness, or any respiratory illness, plays out. We all have a personal responsibility to help prevent COVID-19.”
FCPH reminds everyone to:
– Cover every cough and sneeze with your arm.
– Stay home when you are sick.
– Wash your hands often.
– Do not put your hands in your mouth, eyes or nose.
– Avoid people who are sick.
– Clean frequently touched surfaces.
Keep in mind that if you have traveled somewhere with widespread COVID-19 in the last two weeks (or have been around a confirmed case of COVID-19) and experience symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, or shortness of breath), you should CALL your healthcare provider first so they can evaluate you over the phone. If you do not have a healthcare provider, you should CALL Fayette County Public Health at 740-335-5910 or if you have an emergency, always call 911.
If you have questions about COVID-19 you can contact the Ohio Department of Health hotline at 833-427-5634 or Fayette County Public Health at 740-335-5910.
Multiple public and private colleges and universities — including Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati — canceled in-person classes and moved instruction online at least through March. Among those was the University of Dayton, where early Wednesday police launched “pepper balls” containing an irritant to disperse hundreds of students who gathered outside after next week’s spring break was moved up by three days. Akron and Cleveland were among cities cancelling St. Patrick’s Day parades.
HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
Attendance at Ohio high school postseason tournaments will be limited to relatives of athletes, the media, coaches and school administrators. All tickets previously sold to the events are void and eligible for refunds. All events surrounding the tournaments have been canceled, including special presentations, halftime entertainment and merchandise sales.
Acton on Wednesday ordered visits to nursing homes restricted to one person per resident each day. DeWine said he’ll issue an order soon sharply restricting mass gatherings, which will include banning spectators from sporting events such as March Madness games. In Toledo, the city council ordered the public utilities department to stop shutting off water to homes to ensure people could wash their hands. In Cuyahoga County, court officials announced plans to conduct as much court business by phone as possible to reduce crowds at the downtown Justice Center.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said 143 polling locations currently located in senior living centers or nursing homes, will be moved to new sites ahead of the March 17 primary.
“The most important thing is for people to ask themselves, ‘Should I go to that event? Is it important? Can it be postponed?’”
— Gov. Mike DeWine