The worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 has officially landed in Ohio with Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) immediately signing a state of emergency after health officials confirmed the first three cases.
After weeks of following the headlines of a coronavirus outbreak in other countries and in the Pacific Northwest, DeWine delivered the news that the virus is now in Ohio.
"This afternoon we learned that three Ohioans have tested positive for COVID-19," DeWine said.
The three people who tested positive for COVID-19 are all from Cuyahoga County in their mid-50s.
There's a married couple, a man and a woman, who recently returned from a Nile River Cruise.
The third person is an unrelated case. A man who attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, D.C.
DeWine warned that, with the official presence of the coronavirus, people around the state should expect to experience temporary changes.
"From what we see around the world and the United States, this disease will for a period, will for a period, significantly disrupt our lives," said DeWine.
Examples of disruptions in other states dealing with the coronavirus include school closures, universities requiring students to complete courses online, companies telling employees to work from home, and the cancelling of events involving large crowds.
A priority for the state is to prevent the spread of the virus and to inform people on how to limit exposure for those deemed to be vulnerable to COVID-19. Public health officials say delaying the spread of the virus can reduce the stress on medical facilities and their resources. The high-risk population include people who are elderly, those with compromised immune systems or pre-existing conditions, and health care workers.
Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio Department of Health director, said people who live with someone at high-risk should also be vigilant.
"When you are in a household with someone who's at risk, treat yourself as if you have the disease and take the same precautions and that's how we can protect our most vulnerable," advised Acton.
DeWine says Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R-Ohio) will roll out more information on how the state plans to prevent the spread of germs during the March 17 primary election. For example, DeWine says the 75-plus polling locations set in nursing homes will be moved to a different location. He encourages people to avoid large crowds by voting early at their county board of elections or by mail.
As for large events, such as Dayton and Cleveland's scheduled NCAA March Madness Tournament games? DeWine says a panel of health experts is analyzing different situations, including those games, adding that there was no announcement on that at this time.
"Look we have to be cautious. This will changes people's lives for a while and the whole goal is to make sure Ohioans are safe and so we have to focus on that," said DeWine.
DeWine signed a state of emergency Monday which allows the state to attain medical equipment and supplies quicker, without going through a bid process. He also canceled all nonessential travel by state employees and announced that the large Bureau of Workers' Compensation expo had been postponed.
"This is certainly no ordinary time. It's important for us to take aggressive action to protect Ohioans and the actions we take now will in fact save lives," said DeWine.
The three COVID-19 cases in Ohio were confirmed by tests conducted by the state, which just started its own testing this weekend.
Acton says the state is carrying out what's known as "contact tracing", where epidemiologists retrace the steps of people confirmed with COVID-19 to see who else might've been exposed to that person. The state will notify anyone who came into contact with someone who has COVID-19.