LIMA — Allen County has its first residents with COVID-19.
Allen County Public Health received notice this afternoon of positive results of the novel coronavirus for two people living in Allen County, according to a press release from Kathy Luhn, the county’s health commissioner.
“We have been expecting this and planning for this since we first heard there was community spread in Ohio a couple of weeks ago,” Luhn said during a Friday evening press conference. “We anticipate seeing those numbers going up in the coming weeks, both here in our county, regionally and across the state.”
Under Gov. Mike DeWine’s orders, Ohio residents have faced a number of precautions undertaken at the state level to restrict social gatherings and limit close interactions in order to stop potential spread of the disease. At that time, the first cases of COVID-19 had been identified in high-density populations in the state, and two weeks later, rural counties have started to report their first cases as testing has become more prevalent.
“This is just really the beginning of what we’ve been expecting, which is the confirmation of the virus in our community and people getting sick,” Lima Mayor David Berger said. “We should expect — I think we have to set our expectations — that these numbers will get high and that people will die.”
Luhn said the county health department is now taking action to track the potential spread caused by the two individuals testing positive for the virus. Within the next week, the county agency will be reaching out to family and friends of those residents to inform them and keep them from spreading the virus.
Outside of getting in touch with those who may have come into close contact with the patients, Luhn said Allen County Public Health will not be releasing any identifying information about the patients themselves.
“One of the things about this COVID-19, there’s going to be people that don’t even know they have it. So all those steps we’re saying about keeping your distance, washing your hands, wiping down those frequently touched surfaces, that’s going to protect you,” Luhn said.
Berger encouraged Allen County residents to continue to take the necessary steps to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Lima mayor said that those in the region have reacted well to the current precautions instituted by the state, but at the same time, residents have to be doubly vigilant to take the COVID-19 concerns seriously.
For example, Berger identified a number of pick-up basketball games that have taken place in the last week where groups of young people have been in close contact. In those situations, such residents should be more careful about maintaining six-foot distances between individuals.
“I really think it’s important that we recognize that we must — with our behavior, the way that we interact with other people — take responsibility, not just for our own health, but for the health of everyone that we are coming into contact with,” Berger said. “Understand that this issue of being separated is really a really important practice to do and to be serious about.”
The health department urged individuals to talk to their medical provider if they develop COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever or trouble breathing. They may also call the COVID-19 screening line at 419-226-9000 staffed jointly by Mercy Health-St. Rita’s and Lima Memorial Health System. Blanchard Valley Health System, which operates Bluffton Hospital, also has a triage line at 419-423-7890.
Providers are urged to report suspected cases of COVID-19 to the health department immediately.
“So (to) people who are waiting for us to announce the first case to say, ‘Maybe I should do something now.’ No. Our time is now. We’ve lost time already. We have to be taking these steps right now if we want to flatten that curve, and try to slow that spread,” Luhn said. “That’s the only way we can do this.”
On Wednesday night, Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center acknowledged it had treated a patient who tested positive for COVID-19. The health department clarified the patient was not an Allen County resident.
Luhn urged the community to continue following Ohio’s “stay at home” order, using good hygiene to remain safe:
• Wash your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds.
• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
• Stay home if you are sick.
• If you have underlying health conditions or are an older adult, avoid large gatherings.
The complete audio featuring the remarks by Allen County Health Commissioner Kathy Luhn and Lima Mayor David Berger can be found online at limaohio.com.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.