LIMA — Ohio’s early efforts to contain the novel coronavirus through widespread social distancing have created a unique problem: The very success of those efforts has led some to question whether the state’s stay-at-home order and associated social distancing measures are necessary at all.
But public health experts say social distancing — or maintaining at least six feet of distance from other people while out in public — will need to continue in varying degrees for the next 12-18 months.
And they say Ohioans should continue to stay home whenever possible even as Ohio gets ready to transition into the next phase of its coronavirus containment strategy, which would allow non-essential business to reopen in phases starting May 1.
“The social distancing is going to remain important so that as we open up slowly, we can continue to stay ahead of the curve,” said Tami Gough, director of prevention and health promotion services for Allen County Public Health.
Gough said that while Ohio has thus far controlled the surge in new cases — ensuring hospitals were not overwhelmed — outbreaks in congregant settings like prisons and nursing homes demonstrates how contagious the novel coronavirus truly is.
“We don’t want to have people think, ‘It’s safe now. We can go back to the way it was,’” Gough said. “That is not it at all. We need to continue to do those measures.”
Because the novel coronavirus has a long incubation period, it could take weeks before new cases are detected if people were to widely disregard social distancing recommendations. And because extensive testing is still not available for most people who are exhibiting mild or no symptoms, public health experts warn the true prevalence of the virus in communities is unknown.
“We are just now starting to see cases in Putnam County,” said Kim Rieman, health commissioner for the Putnam County Health Department. “As of last week, on Tuesday, we had two cases. Now we are up into the low 20s. It shows how this organism can spread. I feel very strongly that if people try to get back to their normal lives early that we’re going to just see additional cases.”
Rieman said the primary concern is for vulnerable populations, like the elderly and immunocompromised, who are succumbing to more severe complications caused by COVID-19.
“I know people are ready to get back to work and to be able to be more social,” she said, “but we’re going to have to watch what that does to our numbers.”
Mackenzi Klemann is a reporter with The Lima News. Reach her at 567-242-0456.