LIMA — Gov. Mike DeWine and public health officials in Ohio are preparing for the possibility of an outbreak of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, as the virus spreads rapidly across the globe.
DeWine on Thursday ordered state agencies, prisons and universities to take precautionary measures and messaging to protect against the spread of the virus should it appear in Ohio.
“I want to be clear that the threat of coronavirus in Ohio and the U.S. remains low,” DeWine said on Thursday, “but this could change, and we have to be prepared. I believe it is imperative that we are open with the public and are communicating information in real-time about the coronavirus to both inform and educate our communities.
“We will communicate what we know, when we know it.”
There were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 nor persons under investigation in Ohio as of Thursday afternoon, although the Ohio Department of Health has previously tested seven individuals — who did not test positive for COVID-19 — and has monitored more than 200 persons who recently traveled to high-risk areas but were not showing symptoms of the illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Wednesday has confirmed 14 cases of the virus in the U.S. as well as another 45 repatriated U.S. citizens who tested positive in Wuhan, China, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Brandon Fischer, public health emergency preparedness planner for the Allen County Public Health department, said that while the immediate health risk is low, the COVID-19 virus is a rapidly evolving situation and people should be prepared in the event of a local outbreak.
“We’re doing everything we can to monitor that and try to keep it that way as best we can,” Fischer said.
“Right now, we’re just advising everyone: if you’re sick, stay home,” Fischer continued. “Wash your hands. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow to limit the spread of (illness).”
The CDC anticipates more U.S. cases of COVID-19, which has the potential to disrupt normal operations at workplaces, schools and other large gatherings.
The Ohio Department of Health on Thursday, for example, encouraged childcare providers to stay alert for large increases in absenteeism and to encourage families to keep their children at home when they are sick. The CDC has issued a similar guidance to businesses, highlighting the need for workers to stay home when they show symptoms.
There is no vaccine or medication to treat the virus at present, forcing public health officials to focus instead on containing the virus.
The persons at highest risk for the virus are still those who have recently traveled to Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, or who have come in contact with an infected person.
The symptoms associated with COVID-19 are similar to other respiratory viruses like the seasonal flu, Fischer said, which is why he still encourages anyone who has not yet had their flu vaccine to do so while still being mindful of the new outbreak.
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