Thursday, March 12th, 2020
Mercer County person tested for virus
By Leslie Gartrell
CELINA - Mercer County Health District officials on Wednesday announced they are monitoring a person who could be infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Samples from the patient have been taken and sent to a private lab for testing, Kristy Fryman, health district emergency response coordinator and public information officer, said in a news release. The health district and Ohio Department of Health are monitoring the individual and those who have been in close contact with this person.
The department learned of the patient late Tuesday afternoon, health administrator Jason Menchhofer said at the health board's meeting on Wednesday. Test results are expected within the next day or so.
While the department will not reveal the patient's identity or condition, Menchhofer said circumstances led officials to believe the chances of a positive test for COVID-19 to be low at this time.
Menchhofer said staff members met on Wednesday morning to review ODH rules on communication. A small group of staff met on Monday to discuss the situation, when Menchhofer activated the department's incident command system.
He said staff will meet with officials from several county long-term care facilities on Friday morning and then with school district superintendents next week to discuss the coronavirus situation.
"We're trying to make sure we're prepared," Menchhofer said.
As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, four confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Ohio. The first three were announced on Monday in a news release from Gov. Mike DeWine.
The three individuals live in Cuyahoga County and have had known contact with those with confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19. All those individuals are in their 50s.
The fourth individual in Canton is a male in his mid-50s and is the first example of community spread in the state, according to ODH health director Amy Acton. This means the man had no history of travel outside the U.S. and no known contact with someone else with the disease.
Acton said officials expect to see more cases and more incidents of community spread in the coming days.
During a media briefing on Wednesday, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the organization is categorizing the illness as a pandemic because more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 deaths have been reported.
"WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction," Ghebreyesus said. "We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic."
Mercer County Health District Director of Emergency Preparedness and epidemiologist Deb Scheer said COVID-19 cases outside of China have increased 13-fold, contributing to the WHO's decision to declare the pandemic.
The WHO doesn't use the term "pandemic" lightly. However, Scheer said she feels the department is ready for anything.
"We prepare for this all the time," she said. "We have plans in place. We have constant interaction with ODH. We train and exercise for this yearly."
The outbreak was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, according to ODH. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Symptoms usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the WHO. Groups at higher risk for complications include those over the age of 60, with other chronic health conditions and with compromised immune systems.
However, COVID-19 is non-lethal for most people. Some people become infected but don't develop any symptoms and don't feel ill. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment, according to WHO. Illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults.
While people may worry about COVID-19, Menchhofer said the risk of contracting influenza should be of more concern.
The CDC estimates from Oct. 1-Feb. 29, officials have reported between 34 million to 49 million cases of the flu, between 350,000 and 620,000 flu hospitalizations and between 20,000 and 52,000 flu deaths.
Prevention methods such as hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth and staying home when sick are crucial when it comes to preventing the spread of disease such as the common cold, influenza and COVID-19.
"If you're doing the things you should be doing to protect yourself from the flu, which is a much bigger threat to us right now, you're going to be protecting yourself against the coronavirus," Menchhofer said.
If people have symptoms - fever, cough and difficulty breathing - they should call their doctor or hospital before going. The doctor or hospital will ask questions regarding symptoms and information to determine if the person needs testing and what steps to take. This also allows facilities to prepare for the person's arrival to protect others.
ODH updates its website daily. Those wishing to stay up to date can visit coronavirus.ohio.gov. ODH also has an information hotline at 833-ASK-ODH available seven days a week from 9 a.m.-8 p.m.