PREBLE COUNTY — As announced last week, COVID-19 has made its way to the State of Ohio. According to the Ohio Department of Health, as of Wednesday, March 18, there are 88 confirmed cases, 26 hospitalizations and 333 “under health supervision.”
Those numbers are updated daily on a website Ohio Department of Health made specifically for COVID-19, found at coronavirus.ohio.gov. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in cases in 19 counties in Ohio.
Preble County Public Health Commissioner Erik Balster explained, “The first category [listed] is the confirmed cases. Those people are under what we would consider an isolation period of time until they are basically well again. Length of sickness varies from person to person dependent on different factors including age, other infections, other conditions, and when they initially contracted the virus. Those [confirmed cases] are heavily monitored by physicians, in isolation away from other people until they’re not sick.
“The next category is Persons Under Investigation, and in that case they are people who will be quarantined, which is a 14-day period where they may or may not have the virus, but the 14 days are the guidelines the CDC and World Health Organization recommend. If they do have the virus, they may become symptomatic, or if they pass that 14 day window they don’t have the virus and are free to go back to normal behavior and business.”
He added, Negative PUIs are Persons Under Investigation who turned out to not have COVID-19 after there 14 day quarantine.
“Then, there is one more category, these are individuals under health supervision and these are the people who are self quarantining. They are not necessarily Persons Under Investigation from the Health Department standpoint. They are basically people who have travelled to places that have shown community-wide spread of the virus, for example, people who have recently been to countries in South East Asia or a lot of Europe. Places where there are substantially more cases. These individuals are self quarantining – they are staying home from work, away from crowds, monitoring their symptoms, for up to 14 days,” Balster said.
While there are no cases of COVID-19 in Preble County, Preble County Public Health is monitoring the situation and offers various tips to citizens hoping to avoid the spread of any potential illness.
“[With COVID-19] you usually have a high fever. You can have cough, shortness of breath – those are the symptoms that usually drive someone to care. The spread of that is through droplets, so that is why we are encouraging people to cover their mouths and noses when they sneeze and cough,” Chris Maggard, Director of Nursing at Preble Public Health, said.
“Right now they’re thinking the virus is living on surfaces for 48 hours, so again, frequent hand washing when you’ve been out in the public. If you’re know you’re within six feet of someone who is coughing who has been confirmed to have it, that is the area of travel the droplets would [be transferred]. The main thing is, stay home if you’re sick, cover your mouth or nose if you sneeze or cough, frequent hand washing, and keep your hands off your face.”
While he admits the preventive tactics are similar to the flu virus, Balster stressed that COVID-19 is not the flu virus and should not be treated as such.
“A lot of the symptoms and precautionary measures you can take are similar to a flu-like situation, it is most certainly a different virus that causes what I would consider is a higher severity level than the flu. That said, you can prevent it just like the flu,” he said.
Ultimately, Balster believes COVID-19 is a concern people should take seriously, but there is not a need to go out and stock up on toilet paper.
“I think there is a lot of mixed messaging that has caused a lot of problems. There is definitely a lot of hype and hysteria, we’re seeing a lot of panic buying now. [COVID-19] is a real threat, it is something we should be concerned about, we should take precautions, but should we be panicking? No, absolutely not. I think it is something with the right precautionary measures the risk can be minimized,” he said.
“The risk is real. Anyone who is immunocompromised should be concerned and it is important they hear a certain level of awareness of what is going on, but I don’t think you need to go and stock up on a year’s worth of toilet paper. I don’t foresee that helping you, but with everything, it is also nice to have extra supplies on hand.”
Dr. Mark Vosler
The seriousness of the coronavirus epidemic is a relative question, according to Dr. Mark Vosler. But what’s certain is that it is spreading quickly and widely.
“It will be, by summer or fall, widespread globally. I don’t think there’s any question from any of the experts about that,” Vosler said. “It can probably be considered a pandemic at this point.”
80 to 85 percent of those who contract the virus will suffer only mild symptoms and recover just fine, according to Vosler. Treatment for the illness might be available this fall, and a vaccine could be available by spring or summer of 2021.
“We may end up with an annual vaccine similar to what we have with the flu,” Vosler said.
Attempts to quarantine those infected, or suspected to be infected, in rural areas like Preble County could be difficult, according to Vosler, because people in rural areas often don’t have access to multiple large medical facilities. Cases in Preble County, if and when they’re discovered, would likely have to be transported to hospitals in and around Dayton.
“Containment efforts have not been very helpful in keeping this from spreading through the U.S.,” Vosler said. “But Kettering and Miami Valley are both working judiciously to map out what the plan is going to be in our area.”
Vosler doesn’t expect the death toll from coronavirus to match that of the common flu any time soon.
“Tens of thousands die from the flu, or from complications, each year,” Vosler said. “In the U.S., at least this year, I don’t think the numbers are going to be anywhere close to this.”
Keeping the public informed, according to Vosler, is the key to keeping people safe. He recommends many of the same safety measures he’d normally endorse during flu season, including:
Staying away from cruise ships (and avoiding travel altogether for those over 70);
- Washing hands and avoiding hand-shaking;
- Abstaining from rituals like Communion;
- Keeping surfaces clean using anti-bacterial wipes;
- Sneezing or coughing into one’s elbow or into a Kleenex;
- And, of course, staying at least six feet away from those who might be infected.
“People are panicked right now, but information and communication is the key to keeping them from panicking,” Vosler said. “We’ve gotten used to the flu, and at some point in the future we’ll be used to this as well.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH