Jenny Bailer, commissioner of the Butler County General Health District, speaks at a news conference on Friday, March 13, 2020, after the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Butler County. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

With first coronavirus cases confirmed, Butler County officials stress calm

Butler County General Health District Commissioner Jenny Bailer said those who tested positive are quarantined in their homes. Bailer’s press conference Friday afternoon, which saw her joined by other local and state office holders, came at the same time President Donald Trump was announcing the COVID-19 spread is now officially a national emergency.

Bailer said it’s not clear where the four local cases originated.

Officials are not yet calling the cases a result of community spread, which would mean those testing positive were infected within the region by others and not from travel outside Ohio or America - or from contact with some one from outside the community.

The cases are the first for Southwest Ohio.

UC Health announced the positive results earlier in the day.

The four who tested positive were initially seen at UC Health’s West Chester Hospital to receive tests and were released. The test results were returned this morning, Bailer said.

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Physicians, nurses, caregivers and staff are taking precautions to protect all patients and staff at UC Health, officials at the medical center said.

Two other members of the family are quarantined awaiting a test result, and one member is in the hospital awaiting a test result in Butler County, Bailer said. Five of the family members are in their 30s, and two are in their 70s.

There are “many investigations” happening throughout the county, she said.

“None of this should surprise us,” Gov. Mike DeWine said during his afternoon press conference to provide updates. “None of this should alarm us.”

Officials at Butler County’s news conference said those who think they might need to be tested should contact their health provider before going into the office or the emergency room. The provider will ask questions to determine if a test is warranted, Bailer said.

State health officials predict the numbers of confirmed cases in Ohio will continue to not only grow but to accelerate in the coming weeks and perhaps months before possibly plateauing or declining if wide-spread health measures are followed.

Officials said they estimate 1 percent – about 100,000 people – among the state’s population may now be infected.

Earlier this week the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the spreading COVID-19 virus, which was first reported in China months ago, a global pandemic. Some of the other harder hit nations now include Italy, South Korea and Iran.

Ohio announces more measures

Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday announced more measures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus, helping Ohioans manage during the crisis and keeping health care workers safe as the number of confirmed cases hit 13.

After announcing K-12 schools would close for three weeks beginning Monday, DeWine said Ohio got federal permission to allow school districts to deliver food to students on free or reduced meal plans and districts would continue to provide instruction for Ohio’s 1.7 million students via online or take-home methods.

“We will work with school leaders to make sure they have the flexibility that they need,” DeWine said.

Ohio will also send a request to the Trump administration for additional flexibility on federal rules and regulations and ask for access to the national stockpile of personal protective equipment — PPEs — worn by first responders, doctors and nurses when caring for infectious patients.

“We’ve known all along there are shortages (of PPE),” said Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton on Friday. Healthcare workers are taking measures to conserve, Ohio has a stash of PPE and the state will get some from the national stockpile, she said on Friday.

DeWine also warned that daycare centers may have to be closed to help slow the spread of coronavirus so parents should prepare. He also recommended that families able to pull children from daycare now should do so.

Ohio Chancellor of Higher Education Randy Gardner said universities would pursue policies to move nearly all students out of dormitories, except those who are former foster care youths, international students and those who have no place to move to. Ohio State University this week told students to begin moving out of its residence halls.

School districts scrambling to provide meals to needy students during ordered break

The fast developing actions and closures this week have Butler County schools systems - especially those with high numbers of students from low income families whose children depend on school-provided meals - working quickly to cobble together plans to feed their students during the state-ordered, three week break.

“We have an emergency food plan that will be put into place next week,” said Elizabeth Beadle, spokeswoman for Middletown Schools, which has 100 percent of its students coming from families poor enough to qualify for free and reduced school meals through a federal program.

“More school resources and feeding information will be provided by Monday, March 16 and we will post the information on our website, social media, and email,” said Beadle in a released statement.

Gina Gentry-Fletcher, spokeswoman for the 10,000-student Fairfield Schools, said “from Monday, March 16-Friday March 27, our food service department will be serving meals at all of our school buildings from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.”

“School-age students may visit any building to receive a lunch. The lunch will be grab-and-go style,” said Gentry-Fletcher.

“Students will also receive a breakfast that can be utilized the following day. Students who currently receive a free or reduced lunch will continue to receive that benefit. Students who are not eligible for a free or reduced lunch will be able to purchase a lunch at the regular school lunch price, she said.

The 10,000-student Hamilton Schools will be distributed school meals at 34 bus stops throughout the city, said spokeswoman Joni Copas.

“All Hamilton City Schools will be closed starting Monday, March 16, through Sunday, April 12, during this time the district will be providing meals to those in need,” said Copas.

“Beginning Wednesday, March 18 through Friday, April 10, Hamilton City Schools will be providing a lunch meal as well as breakfast for the next morning in a ‘to go’ bag. These meals will be provided Monday - Friday. The ‘to go” bags are not for sale,” said Copas.

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