In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday asked colleges and universities to hold classes online, organizers of indoor sporting events — including NCAA March Madness games — to ban spectators, communities to cancel parades and other large gatherings and nursing homes to carefully screen visitors.
DeWine said these are “strong recommendations” at this point and no decision has been made on when or if state and local public health officials will issue legal orders to block spectators at games.
DeWine halted all visits at Ohio’s 27 adult prisons and three youth detention facilities and said the Buckeye Sheriffs’ Association would be issuing guidance on jail visitors.
While Ohio has just three confirmed cases of positive tests for coronavirus, DeWine said aggressive steps are needed to slow the spread so that the health care system isn’t overwhelmed and vulnerable people are protected.
The moves came a day after Butler County Health Commissioner Jenny Bailer urged the public to “avoid panic.”
“Just being realistic we’re probably going to uncover some (cases), so don’t let that panic you, that’s because before we couldn’t test, we couldn’t look,” Bailer said while briefing the county commissioners Monday morning. “Now we can look and we’ll probably find something. It is inevitable. But we want to mitigate and try to minimize the impact.”
Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency Monday after three Cuyahoga County residents tested positive for the coronavirus. Bailer said test kits arrived in Columbus last weekend, and prior to that testing was done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
“We don’t have test kits here, they are given to the state so they are in Columbus at the state lab and they are doing the testing,” Bailer said. “We can facilitate testing and help decide who needs to be tested.”
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he Ohio Secretary of State directed boards of election to relocate polling places that are in nursing homes because that population is most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and the primary election is next Tuesday.
Butler County BOE Director Diane Noonan said the board was already preparing to supply polling locations with hand sanitizer and special cleaning solutions to try to minimize the spread of illness. Officials are in the process of relocating three voting locations:
• Woodridge Healthcare in Fairfield
• Fairfield Pavilion in Fairfield
• Ohio Living Mount Pleasant in Monroe
“Things are super fluid right now,” Assistant BOE Director Eric Corbin said. “We know which ones we have to move but we don’t know where we’re moving them yet.”
Corbin said once officials have determined the new voting locations they will notify voters by mail and social media.
Bailer said she, the health commissioners in Hamilton and Middletown and Butler County Emergency Management have been working countywide including all stakeholders like schools, health facilities and local governments in preparing for this moment for some time.
DeWine had asked public health officials to focus on senior citizens and those with chronic diseases. Bailer said they had scheduled a meeting with the long-term care and skilled nursing facilities in the county before the governor made the request.
“We’re meeting with all the long-term cares in Butler County, we’ve invited every single one and we’re going to look at how to avoid an outbreak via education and preparation,” she said.
Hamilton Health Commissioner Kay Farrar said hand washing for at least 20 seconds — singing Happy Birthday twice does the timing trick — is the easiest and most effective way of preventing the spread of disease.
Back when H1N1 was an issue, school officials insisted kids wash their hands twice a day and the results were significant.
“We had a decrease in H1N1 of 50 percent,” Farrar said. “That’s a pretty significant drop.”
Bailer said using proper cold protocols like covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and avoiding touching your face is prudent. Wiping down surfaces with bleach or disinfectant wipes works well to contain germs.
The Journal-News toured several Butler County stores after the Monday positive tests announcement and found many with low stocks of sanitizing and cleaning supplies. Almost all had limitations on the number of disinfecting items shoppers were allowed to purchase, and several stores had very low to no stock on wipes and hand sanitizer items.
Public health officials have been urging people not to purchase face masks. There are shortage concerns for first responders and medical personnel who really need them in many places, although Butler County officials said that has not been an issue in this area.
“Where we come into bear is we would ensure that resources are available or provided for our first responders, our health care, our medical, those folks that would be providing the service on a needed basis,” EMA Director Matt Haverkos said. “We’ve already established those (supply) chains.”
There are other reasons masks aren’t necessary for everyone.
“Don’t waste your money buying things like face masks. They’re not appropriate…,” Farrar said. “The walking well do not need a face mask. In fact, it probably will do more harm, because you would be touching your face more, instead of less.”
Commissioner T.C. Rogers asked Bailer how much authority she and the commissioners have in trying to contain an outbreak. He said he is worried about public perception.
“If it’s out there that somebody is found (to have the disease) and their business may be closed down I would think that there might be a disincentive to come forward more quickly, maybe wait and see if they got sick,” Rogers said. “That’s what I’m trying to avoid happening at anybody’s business, anybody’s shopping mall.”
Bailer responded, “We have not seen with this disease reason to shut businesses just because someone there had the disease. We would say go home, isolate yourself, the business could carry on.”
County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said Bailer has the “authority for quarantine for those cases involving known exposure and actual diagnosis of a contagion such as the coronavirus.”
Commissioner Don Dixon told Bailer the county supports her fully in anything she needs to do in this crisis.
“I know this is probably going to push some resources, shortages in funding or maybe money, I don’t want that to be an issue if it is,” Dixon said. “I want you to come here.”
For information or questions on Coronavirus, call the state Department of Health hotline, 833-4ASK-ODH, or visit coronavirus.ohio.gov. The hotline is staffed daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For information regarding voting, visit VoteOhio.gov/coronafacts.
For information about becoming a poll worker, OhioSos.gov/defenddemocracy.