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Coronavirus In Ohio: Columbus Declares Public Health Emergency

Columbus Public Health commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts announcing the city's state of emergency last March.
Nick Evans
Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts.

In what appears to be a first-of-its kind step, Columbus Public Health has declared a local health emergency as a result of the coronavirus.

The move gives sweeping powers to Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts. In addition to imposing quarantines she can mandate testing and treatment for some patients.

“The local public health emergency mandates testing and treatment to ensure people are getting appropriate care,” Roberts says. “This could include ordering medical exams and treatment and quarantining individuals who refuse exams.”

She notes city officials can enforce quarantines with the police, although she insists that is a last resort.

The declaration also allows Roberts to establish containment zones in the case of particularly intense outbreaks. A similar approach has been taken in the New Rochelle, New York, a suburb of New York City, which has the largest coronavirus cluster in the U.S. 

“This third provision is especially important to prevent a hotspot of disease in a building, a facility or neighborhoods to prevent spreading beyond that specific location,” Roberts said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Andrew Ginther announced the city is delaying shut-offs for power and water until April 15 to ensure residents can continue to wash their hands. The city is also closing all of its recreation centers until April 3. That move coincides with the state-mandated closure of all K-12 schools.

Coronvirus In Ohio: Live Coverage

The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands. 
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. 
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.

Ohio's coronavirus call center is open to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The hotline number is 1-833-4-ASK-ODH or 1-833-427-5634.
This article will be updated with more information as the story develops.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.