EATON — Preble County Public Health officials had reported six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Preble County as of press time on Monday, April 6.
Social media and other discourse around cases reported in the area have shown some in the general public questioning why additional information regarding the individuals testing positive has not bee released by PCPH.
“In an emergency situation, such as this COVID-19 pandemic, the health department must continue to implement reasonable safeguards to protect patient information against intentional or unintentional impermissible uses and disclosures per HIPAA and other privacy laws,” Preble County Public Health Commissioner Erik Balster said via email last week. “We do conduct a contact investigation to identify and notify all close contacts of the individual.”
Balster said close contacts “are individuals that have been within 6 feet for a prolonged period of time in a care area or with direct contact with the infectious individual.”
“Public health will not release a listing of locations visited by the individual unless the contact investigation warrants such an announcement in order to protect the health of the public. In such a small community as Preble County, identifying a village or township for a positive case very well could be used to easily identify the patient,” he added.
According to Balster, there are no testing sites in Preble County.
“Physicians within Preble County can order tests for individuals and they can get them done at places such as UD Arena, Reid Respiratory Clinic, or the various hospital locations surrounding the county (the Kettering, Premier, TriHealth, Reid, etc. hospital systems,)” Balster noted. “We don’t expect to have testing available in county at this time. This is due to the current limited supply of tests within this country.”
According to Balster, physicians are not required to report the numbers of COVID-19 tests being ordered to the health department, so there is no way to know an accurate number of Preble County residents who have been tested.
“Residents also seek medical attention in at least three different medical markets, including Cincinnati, Dayton and Richmond, which adds additional complications in reporting,” he said. “With that said, all positive cases are still required to be immediately reported to our department regardless of county, state or hospital.”
Balster noted, hospitals in counties such Montgomery or Butler are required to report positive Preble County residents immediately to the Preble County Health Department.
“Additionally, we speak daily with Reid Hospital and several nearby health departments in Indiana to ensure that we are aware of any Preble County residents under care or investigation or testing for COVID-19,” Balster said.
Regarding negative reports, Balster said PCPH does not have an exact number, as only positive laboratory results are reported to the department.
”However, we do occasionally become aware of particular investigations as a result of our close communication with neighboring county partners,” he added.
Last week, Preble County reported its first two “laboratory confirmed” cases of COVID-19. As with the first case, the second case according to Balster, was also a 69-year-old female resident.
“Individuals with close personal contact with this individual have been notified by our department and all of these close contacts are asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days and monitor themselves for symptoms of fever, cough, or shortness of breath,” Balster said last week.
“If you are not contacted, you did not have close extended contact with the cases,” he added.
At press time, details of the newest cases reported over the weekend were unavailable.
“Preble County Public Health (PCPH) continues to work on Coronavirus (COVID-19) response every single day,” Balster said. “You should monitor state and local news but rely on PCPH for reliable information on COVID-19 right here in Preble County. Information and guidance for COVID-19 changes daily.
PCPH provides weekly Public Information Releases and is updating information daily on its website at preblecountyhealth.org/coronavirus and on social media @PrebleCoHealth.
In the update on Friday, April 3, PCPH reported three confirmed cases in Preble County.
“There are other individuals awaiting test results and others with mild symptoms who may not be tested due to a lack of testing capability throughout the U.S.,” Balster reported in the release. “A contact investigation is under way to identify and notify close contacts of the individuals who have tested positive.”
The release stressed again, “those identified as having close contact with the ill individual will be notified by Public Health. Public Health will not release a listing of locations of the individual unless the contact investigation warrants such an announcement in order to protect the health of the public.”
Residents of Preble County are being tested for COVID-19, however, testing for COVID-19 is still very limited throughout Ohio and is being primarily restricted to those showing very severe symptoms, Balster said.
“Please call your doctor, urgent care or hospital location before going in for treatment,” he encouraged.
The PCPH-sponsored volunteer Preble County Medical Reserve Corps has teamed up with the National Association of City and County Health Officials and community members for “Mission Masks,” a program to make much-needed fabric masks.
According to Balster, they have received approximately 525 masks to date.
Masks can continue to be dropped off anytime at Preble County Public Health, 615 Hillcrest Drive, Eaton, OH 45320. A bin is located outside the front door. Mask donations should include the donor’s name, email and phone number.
Symptoms and what you can do
“Since there is community spread, it’s important we all understand the symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, or shortness of breath),” Balster said last week. “Older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. If you or a family member is experiencing these symptoms you should CALL your healthcare provider first so they can evaluate you over the phone. If you do not have a healthcare provider. But if you have an emergency, always call 9-1-1.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.