LIMA — For weeks, public health experts have warned that containing the novel coronavirus would disrupt daily life. The rapidly evolving situation has still caught an unsuspecting and confused public by surprise.
The situation changed quickly: Days after Ohio confirmed its first cases of COVID19, public health officials now believe 1% of Ohioans may be carrying the virus, prompting Gov. Mike DeWine to ban mass gatherings of 100-plus people, temporarily close schools and take other drastic measures.
The closures raise the question of how best to protect the vulnerable — the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and those with underlying health conditions — from contracting a virus that appears to pose little serious risk to the public at large.
There are several basic strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including quarantine, isolation and social distancing.
Self-quarantine applies to individuals who have potentially been exposed to the virus but who have not yet shown symptoms. Isolation refers to those who have confirmed cases of COVID-19. Both quarantine and isolation can take place at home, depending on the severity of the case.
Social distancing takes these measures one step further, asking the public to avoid large gatherings where people are likely to come within 6 feet of one another, as COVID-19 easily spreads between people when infected persons cough or sneeze.
“You are trying to ensure that social life continues, but in a way that limits an opportunity for mass gatherings,” said Dr. Amy Fairchild, a professor and dean of The Ohio State University’s College of Public Health in Columbus. “It reduces the capacity for the virus to spread in the population.”
It’s a difficult practice for a public that values personal freedom.
But public health experts worry that failure to slow the virus’s spread in the general population risks overburdening the healthcare system, as medical experts now predict cases are doubling every six days. If too many people are infected at once, hospitals could quickly run out of beds in intensive care units.
Fairchild warned that while the flu and COVID-19 share symptoms, there are risks in assuming the new coronavirus will behave in exactly the same way as the flu.
“We don’t have any experience with this virus,” she said.
Steven Martin, a professor and dean of the Rudolph H. Raabe College of Pharmacy at Ohio Northern University, said Americans have taken a callous approach to the seasonal flu. The outbreak may force a public reckoning.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation, where we are asked to stop doing things in the way we’ve always done them in an effort to prevent illness among the population and potential threat of death,” Martin said. “The problem is we don’t know who might potentially contract the disease, and even if I don’t end up (in the hospital), I could be contagious and give it to someone who does. We’re going through extraordinary measures to reduce the loss of life.”
“When you look at it from a collective viewpoint as opposed to an individual viewpoint,” he said, “you begin to see the wisdom of trying to do some of these things.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.