Butler County coronavirus concerns affect schools, jail, voting and more

Ohio’s governor issued a warning to everyone in the state as the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic Wednesday and state’s fourth infection was confirmed: “There is a new, big, huge risk in your life.”

Gov. Mike DeWine was joined by state medical officials in a press conference that included predictions of a “community spread” of the COVID-19, which they described as a “once-in-50-years situation.”

“Accept the reality as it is. Accept what the experts are telling us. We have to look at everything now,” DeWine said..

“This is difficult for people. We know it (virus) is already here. Everything looks the same but it’s really not,” but he added “we need not panic. We just need to take rational actions.”

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“We have the ability to control risks. What we should not be doing is taking unnecessary risks,” he said touching on some of his office’s statewide executive orders against public gatherings – and urging for voluntary restrictions by organizations and individuals that will see prep and college basketball games in the state largely closed to fans.

Hours after the World Health Organization officially declared the global spread of COVID-19 – also referred to as the coronavirus – a pandemic, DeWine’s historic announcement came as schools, nursing homes, health centers, blood banks, jails and other organizations in Butler and southern Warren counties were already rapidly altering procedures to help lessen the chances of contracting and spreading the virus.

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Fairfield South Elementary was closed Wednesday for disinfection after a student’s younger sibling was tested for the virus, but district officials said the school is safe and would reopen for classes today.

School officials said the decision to close was not necessary after consulting with the Butler County General Health District and medical professionals, but they did so anyway “as a precautionary measure.”

“This was a very serious consideration by several district leaders,” said Fairfield schools spokeswoman Gina Gentry-Fletcher. “Our staff is thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the building today, again, as a precaution.”

The sibling is not yet old enough to attend school, Gentry-Fletcher said.

DeWine said Ohio’s K-12 schools are a focal point for concern as possible spreaders of the virus should it arise in a local school community.

“We may at some point have to close the schools but we are certainly not there at this point,” he said.

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The fourth confirmed case in Ohio was announced Wednesday and involves a 53-year-old man in Stark County who first fell ill Feb. 25 and is now hospitalized.

He had no history of travel outside the United States or known contact with someone with the virus — which indicates “community spread” has been occurring in Ohio, said Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton.

Restricting mass gatherings are intended to slow the spread of coronavirus so that Ohio’s health care system is not overwhelmed with a spike in cases, said Dr. Acton.

DeWine said an order would be coming that would prohibit indoor sporting events to be played in front of general crowds, including NCAA tournament games in Dayton and Cleveland Ohio high school basketball tournament games. Both kinds of events would still allow media and selected spectators to attend, he said.

“High school athletes will not be able to compete in front of their fans and their school mates,” he said.

Local organizations impacted

Officials from the Community Blood Center, which serves Butler County, said they are is facing blood drive cancellations out of fear of the coronavirus outbreak and is calling on donors to help prevent a blood shortage by continuing to donate.

“At this time a growing number of sponsors have cancelled CBC blood drives or changed locations citing temporary measures to guard against the coronavirus. There is not a current blood shortage in CBC’s 15-county region of western Ohio and eastern Indiana, but CBC warns supply could change dramatically.

Visitation will be stopped at the Butler County Jail, as well. Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said on Wednesday that he jail uses a video visitation system, but the concern is for the hundreds of family members who gather in the lobby each weekend for visitation.

Jones said it is prudent to limit these large crowds to help prevent the potential of further spreading of the virus. Inmates will be given additional free calling privileges until visitation is reinstated.

For next week’s election, three polling places were moved out of nursing homes or senior care facilities to restrict the amount of traffic traveling near those populations at high risk if infected by the coronavirus.

Voters in the primary election next Tuesday will be redirected to the following locations:

• From Fairfield Pavilion to Creekside Middle School in Fairfield

• From Ohio Living Mount Healthy to the Monroe Library and Community Center

• From Woodridge Healthcare to Fairfield Senior High School

The majority of Butler County polls are located in local schools, and Assistant Board of Elections Director Eric Corbin said early on the Secretary of State’s Office inquired about the number of polls where school would be in session. There are 22, because Lakota would on spring break.

“Moving out of all the schools would have been just a monumental task to do in eight days,” Corbin told the Journal-News.

Different than the flu

The coronavirus that’s part of the outbreak has similarities to some other familiar illnesses like the flu in that it is a respiratory virus and its spread is slowed by preventive measures like hand washing.

There are also ways it is different.

One important way it is different is that, while the majority of people who have had the disease have had mild cases, the percent of cases with severe complications is higher for COVID-19, based on the latest information available on the emerging disease. Older adults are at an even higher risk for serious complications if they have the coronavirus, according to the CDC.

There is a vaccine for influenza and not a vaccine for COVID-19. Also, since the coronavirus that’s part of the outbreak is new, people don’t already have immunity to it.

Influenza remains a public health concern, with flu still widespread in Ohio and more than 8,500 Ohioans have stayed in a hospital so far this season for flu-related reasons. Health officials have said flu shots are recommended not only for the standard prevention reasons, but also because it can help keep people from having symptoms confused for the coronavirus and can keep capacity free at local health care systems in case there are people with COVID-19 who need to be cared for.

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.

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