CLEVELAND (AP) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that people in the state must have a “sense of urgency” about the emerging health threat of the COVID-19 virus.
DeWine's remarks came during a press briefing at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland to discuss steps Ohio is taking to confront the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak and common sense measures people should take to protect themselves from the disease and the flu.
“I want to be clear that the threat of coronavirus in Ohio and the United States remains low, but this could change and we have to be prepared,” DeWine said, “We will communicate what we know, when we know it.”
There are no known cases of the virus that causes COVID-19 thus far in Ohio. Seven people who have returned to Ohio from overseas have tested negative for the virus. More than 200 people have been asked to voluntarily quarantine themselves for 14 days.
The virus that emerged in China has infected more than 82,000 people and caused more than 2,800 deaths worldwide. There have been about 60 cases in the United States thus far.
DeWine outlined a series of steps and recommendations he has made to lessen the possibilities of an outbreak. He has urged colleges and universities to prohibit travel to China and South Korea, the two countries most affected by the COVID-19 virus, and has asked schools to accommodate students who are studying abroad and might need to return to the U.S.
“We don't want people to be scared, we want them to be ready,” DeWine said.
Other measures include:
— Ordering the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to increase the frequency and use of disinfectants at prisons and youth facilities.
— Asking local aging organizations to check on nursing care facilities to determine whether disease prevention methods are in place.
— Having the Ohio Department of Transportation post information about hand washing protocols at all state rest areas and on electronic message boards.
— Increasing the cleaning of hallways and common areas at state buildings.
— Creating a website coronavirus.ohio.gov to provide information about the disease.
Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton said at the briefing that the state has spent the last six weeks preparing for the possibility of an outbreak of the new virus.
“This is something we really are prepared for,” Acton said. “Infectious disease is something we know.”
While the virus threat for now might be low, Acton said, “as you have seen around the world, that can change."
She recommends that people prepare for the possibility of an outbreak by stocking up on basic medicines to treat cold symptoms along with keeping a 14-day supply of prescription medications on hand.
Should someone contract the disease, Acton said, “you will have more help than you've ever had when you're sick if you have coronavirus.”
Acton acknowledged after the briefing that officials “always assumed we'd see cases in Ohio.”
A summit for officials from local health departments has been scheduled for March 5 in Columbus.
Acton said COVID-19 looks much like the H1N1 pandemic that spread across the globe in 2009 and 2010, adding: “Which means we're in for the long haul.”
The Centers for Disease Control has said more than 12,000 people in the U.S. died after contracting H1N1 with estimates of between 150,000 and 575,000 deaths worldwide.