LIMA — Adults over 60 and people with chronic health conditions — like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and other ailments which weaken the immune system — are at higher risk of developing complications associated with the new coronavirus, COVID-19, and should avoid crowds now that Ohio has confirmed three positive cases of COVID-19 in the Cleveland area, local public health officials say.
“Avoiding crowds is the best recommendation for these folks,” said Kathy Luhn, health commissioner for Allen County Public Health.
While she said the risk is still low to the general public, Luhn still recommends the everyday precautions like frequent handwashing — which should last for at least 20 seconds with soap and water — to limit the virus’s spread in Ohio.
But Luhn took her recommendations further, encouraging people who are at lower risk of hospitalization or severe complications from COVID-19 to be extra cautious when interacting with at-risk populations.
“The best thing you can do is act like you might be contagious and make sure you’re extra cautions around them with handwashing,” she said.
That means avoiding unnecessary visits with at-risk family and friends or helping older neighbors with errands, so they don’t have to leave the house as often.
The Ohio Department of Health on Monday confirmed the state’s first COVID-19 cases in Cuyahoga County, prompting Gov. Mike DeWine to declare a state of emergency.
The three individuals, all in their 50s, were exposed to the virus by others with confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses.
DeWine said the state of emergency is a “legal necessity,” allowing state agencies to coordinate their response to the virus. An emergency operations center was partially opened at 1 p.m. Monday, days after the state opened a new call center to field public questions about the virus.
The newly detected COVID-19 cases come shortly after in-state testing became available.
For weeks, the Ohio Department of Health was only able to test individuals who met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for testing, which were focused primarily on people who traveled to countries with high exposure to the virus or who were in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
ODH has since broadened its testing guidelines, allowing hospitals and health care providers to send suspected COVID-19 samples to private laboratories when patients do not meet the state’s stricter guidelines, which were developed to prioritize the most severe cases while the state’s testing capabilities are limited.
That means is anyone who develops respiratory symptoms — including fever, coughing or difficulty breathing — can call their health care provider to determine whether testing is needed.
Anyone who has had contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 or who has traveled to an area with widespread community outbreak should self-quarantine for 14 days. Should symptoms develop during the two-week quarantine period, Luhn recommends calling a health care provider.
Anyone else who develops those flu-like symptoms but has not had known contact with the virus should still consider themselves sick and stay home from work, school or even running errands, Luhn said.
Kelsey Ralfton, public information officer for the Kenton/Hardin Health Department, said that while most people won’t develop severe cases, it’s important to exercise caution to avoid infecting at-risk people.
“Eighty percent of the population won’t show symptoms of this,” Ralfton said. “It’s the 20% that do have those respiratory illnesses and chronic conditions that we need to protect.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.