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.
Ohio's fourth diagnosed case of COVID-19 will force the state health apparatus into a new stage of containment, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton announced in a Wednesday news conference.
The newly diagnosed patient is a 52-year-old Stark County man now hospitalized in isolation at Mercy Medical Center in Canton, according to DeWine. Unlike the three previous diagnoses, he had no recent record of international travel or interaction with known COVID-19 patients.
Acton said his diagnosis therefore means that the virus has reached a new stage in Ohio: Community spread, where people are passing it to each other within the state and new cases of COVID-19 might not have easily traceable vectors of infection. When an illness is harder to track, she added, it is also more difficult for public health officials to contain.
“By definition, once you see two cases of community spread, you can assume 1% of the population is infected," she said.
DeWine said he plans to issue a new order affecting large public gatherings, including sporting events, Thursday.
He repeatedly declined to give a definitive answer about whether the order would lead to the cancellation of events such as the Reds Opening Day parade but said Ohioans should be extremely cautious, even about smaller gatherings such as church services and pot lucks.
“There is a risk in any kind of mass gatherings," he said. "The bigger the gathering, the bigger the risk. The closer you are in proximity to more people, the bigger the risk.”
He added: “I think this is difficult for people. It’s difficult because they don’t see it coming. … While it’s difficult for people to kind of get it — and I understand it, I have to keep telling myself that it’s different. Everything looks the same, but it’s really not. It is different. We should not panic. We should not get upset. We should take rational actions."
Those rational actions include thorough hand-washing and disinfecting, avoiding close physical contact with others, canceling international travel and, for those who begin to feel sick, self-quarantining by staying home from school or work until the illness has passed. People in the highest-risk groups, such as those over 50, people with immune system deficiencies and people with pre-existing respiratory problems, should take extra care.
Acton said conscientious health practices from the entire population, including those likely to recover quickly, will do more than limit the virus's spread — they'll prevent it from overwhelming state health systems with a debilitating influx of cases.
The Ohio Hospital Association includes over 200 members, but most of them are not equipped to test or take COVID-19 patients, according to health officials.
The largest and best-funded hospitals will instead absorb cases from across the state, potentially displacing patients receiving elective care if there are too many at once.
DeWine urged Ohioans to be responsible for their own sake and others'.
“We know the situation is going to get worse before it gets better," he said. "We know it’s going to be bad. The question is how bad it’s going to be.”
He also set new rules for nursing homes in the state: One visitor per patient per day, and mandatory health screenings for those visitors.
Find 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 email@example.com
- 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.