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Sen. Rob Portman sizes up COVID-19 crisis in Ohio's big cities

Why Cincinnati has fewer cases than Cleveland, Columbus
Tired of waiting, Ohio voters take the town hall meeting to Sen. Rob Portman in Washington
Posted at 9:36 PM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-27 21:39:52-04

Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions at the end of this story.

CINCINNATI - Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati rank 1-2-3 in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ohio, but Sen. Rob Portman sees significant differences between the Queen City and the state’s two largest cities.

One in four Ohio cases lie in Cuyahoga County around Cleveland. Near the capital, Franklin County has more than a 100 people with coronavirus. That's more than Hamilton, Butler, Warren, and Clermont counties combined."

Quiet streets. Businesses working remotely.

Portman, from Terrace Park, saw it happening around Cincinnati before Gov. Mike DeWine's stay-at-home order.

“I think what's even more important is that we have fewer hospitalizations,” Portman said, “because the number of cases could relate to the number of tests. In other words, if we had more tests in Southwest Ohio, we might have more cases."

Hamilton County only tests people with moderate and mild symptoms when there are risk factors.

SEE Ohio’s COVID-19 map.

"The more we test the more we will definitely see more cases,” said Greg Kesterman, interim Hamilton County Health Commissioner. “We know it is here in the community, so testing is just a tool to help our providers provide treatment and deal with the issue they know they have."

As of Friday morning, the area's health collaborative said hospitals had not reached surge levels anywhere near those seen in New York.

But word of pay cuts coming for TriHealth senior leaders and Mercy Health doctors reported by the WCPO I-Team troubles Portman. The senator says a $150 billion chunk of Congress's $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package immediately goes to hospitals to cover losses, pay staff, buy equipment, and find anti-viral treatments.

"That's really important because if we don't solve the health-care crisis here, we're not going to be able to get the economy moving again," Portman said.

"I talked to the head of one of our large health-care groups in Cincinnati just before this call and he informed me that they are making preparations for a worst-case scenario. But we don't have to be New York if we can continue to practice what we're practicing."

Find more coronavirus/COVID-19 hotlines and resources below:


  • Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 833-4-ASK-ODH
  • See ODH’s COVID-19 resources here.


  • State COVID-19 hotline: 1-800-722-5725
  • See the Cabinet for Health and Family Services coronavirus resource site here.


  • SDH Epidemiology Resource Center: (317) 233-7125 or (317) 233-1325 after hours, or e-mail
  • See more information for coronavirus in Indiana here.

What is coronavirus, COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are "a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A novel coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The CDC reports the initial patients in China have some link to a large seafood and live animal market, indicative of animal-to-person spread. A growing number of patients, however, did not report exposure to animal markets, indicating the disease is spreading person-to-person.

What are the symptoms? How does it spread?

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath.

The CDC said symptoms could appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It is similar to the incubation period for MERS.

Spread of the virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person. Spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet). Spread occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

According to the CDC, it could be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC said.

The disease is most contagious when people are the sickest and showing the most symptoms.