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Local And State Officials Share COVID-19 Preparedness Plans

The CDC's laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus.
The CDC's laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus.

As of March 3, 2020, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana, and the risk to people locally remains low. That's the lead message from local health officials.

There is one person under investigation in Ohio, according to numbers updated Tuesday afternoon by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). There are 212 people who are self-quarantining under department supervision and seven people have tested negative.

There are currently 212 people in Ohio who have returned to the U.S. after having been in China within the past 14 days. These numbers are a rough estimate and not to be considered an exhaustive count of all travelers in Ohio. The numbers will fluctuate depending on the investigation. None of these travelers fit the criteria to be considered a Person Under Investigation (PUI) for possible COVID-19, none are showing symptoms and will not undergo laboratory testing unless those criteria are met. We will update this number every Wednesday.

If someone in Hamilton County presents with symptoms, Hamilton County Public Health (HCPH) is responsible for monitoring and quarantining them for 14 days, says Hamilton County Public Health Interim Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman. The agency says it has monitored people though it does not say how many or when, just that they did not have the disease.

For now, local health departments are still sending samples to ODH, which then sends them on to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing.

"Our state should have the new reagent (a necessary testing component) within a few days and then we will move from sending samples through the state lab to the CDC to sending directly to the state lab just like we do for Zika of for any other type of virus that we would not measure here locally," says Dr. Steve Feagins, medical director with HCPH.

Here are the criteria that define a person under investigation (PUI).
Credit Courtesy of Hamilton County Public Health
Here are the criteria that define a person under investigation (PUI).

Plans Are Already In Place

There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. Symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

The agency says it is "working diligently with resources at the local, state and federal levels to make sure our response plan is up-to-date, our partners are well-informed, and the healthcare community knows exactly how to handle any eventuality."

Kesterman says HCPH most recently tested its pandemic preparedness plan in October 2019, along with Northern Kentucky and Indiana. Hamilton County is part of an eight-county preparedness group that creates plans for epidemic or large-scale events. Those eight counties share one hotline for physicians who may have potential patients.

Ohio is preparing to launch a public hotline. The number is expected to be released soon.

HCPH says its preparedness plan includes communication quarantines and social distancing, and the agency has consulted with the prosecutor's office regarding isolation and quarantine procedures. A call bank can be set up as needed.

How You Can Prepare

Reminders: Practice good hand hygiene, washing your hands for 20-30 seconds; don't touch your face; don't shake hands if you're ill; disinfect surfaces in your home and workplace; and cough and sneeze into your elbow.

You can read more about how you can and can't contract novel coronavirus here. The virus has a transmission area of about six feet.

As Ohio Public Radio reports, the Ohio Department of Transportation will post information at rest stops about preventing the coronavirus, and the Ohio Department of Aging will help to identify citizens most vulnerable to getting infected.

Gov. Mike DeWine is encouraging universities to prohibit foreign travel to countries under advisory from the CDC.

What UC Health Says

UC Health, one of the largest hospital groups in Cincinnati, says it has broad emergency plans that it narrows as needed for specifics, like COVID-19. Two UC Health doctors hosted a Facebook Live Monday to discuss the situation and the system's readiness to deal with cases and potential cases. You can watch it below:

Dr. Dustin Calhoun, medical director of emergency management, says UC Health's plans already cover the CDC's recommendations for COVID-19 response, adding the agency participates in table top and roll-playing drills from time to time.

Calhoun says the steps UC Health is taking are "normal workflow for our people: using airborne precautions, using eye protections, using contact precautions, droplet precautions. Those are things that our folks use day to day." They are also doing some refresher education.

UC Health says most of its work right now is focusing on identifying patients as early as possible and isolating patients who show potential symptoms.

"We've worked on some of our entry portals … how do we as early as possible catch those folks, and making sure that we're on top of our game on that. Again, it's more an up-schooling of what we normally do than it is big changes."

The hospital is working with area EMS and emergency responders, it says, to assist in their preparedness efforts, too.

"We are prepared to deal with this in an appropriate fashion," Calhoun says. "The biggest thing people can do is helping to prepare themselves. Social distancing – if you have symptoms, do everything you can not to spread them to someone else, whether that's a cold, the flu, or COVID-19. Simple stuff such as hand hygiene, cough hygiene, that's really important stuff."

People should have food and supplies on hand, including prescriptions. You should also have plans in place in case you need to find child care if a school is closed, or work from home or deal with other work-related issues.

Coronavirus spreads through droplets but scientists are still learning more about how it's spread.

Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UC, reminds people to practice smart hygiene.

Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing and wash hands afterward or use hand sanitizer. Use the elbow technique. Stay home from work if you're sick and don't travel if you're ill. There's no need to worry about receiving packages as Fichtenbaum says "you're not going to get COVID-19 from a package. It's not going to survive shipping. Viruses are not hearty enough to survive that sort of thing."

Who Should Wear A Face Mask?

"If you're sick (i.e., have a cold), you should wear a face mask if you have to go out in public. Why? Because that is going to help prevent you from spreading the droplets or airborne aerosolization of viruses to other people," Fichtenbaum says. "If you're healthy and you aren't having any symptoms, a mask isn't necessarily going to help prevent you from catching any other disease."

Of domestic travel he says, "Wearing a mask is unlikely to be helpful to you because droplets aren't something that are always inhaled, they can be passed when you get them on your hands and other surfaces. The best advice is to wash your hands for 20-30 seconds with soap and water … before you eat or touch your nose, mouth or eyes. If you're traveling on a plane, bring some hand sanitizer so that before you eat or drink anything you can clean your hands again."

From The Ohio Department Of Health

The Ohio Department of Health created a household preparation checklist. You can download it here.COVID-19 checklist by WVXU News on Scribd

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