Ohio health officials have confirmed another case of COVID-19. The infected person is a 53-year-old Stark County man. His case is the fourth confirmed in the state. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reports 24 people are undergoing testing.
In a press conference Wednesday, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said the man started showing symptoms in February and is the first case of "community spread," which means the individual hasn't traveled or come into contact with a person confirmed with COVID-19.
Acton said she expects to see cases rise in the coming weeks and there will be some hard months ahead for Ohioans. Acton also confirmed six health care workers at University Hospitals are in self-quarantine and a few employees at Mercy Health, where the Stark County man is being treated, are being monitored.
"Community spread is a game changer," Acton said. "You're going to see us take more aggressive actions."
DeWine said the case of community spread was expected and will change operations in the state.
DeWine said at some point K-12 schools will have to close, but not yet. On Tuesday, DeWine asked them not to cancel classes, but encouraged them to start planning on how to get students to take courses online instead. In Northeast Ohio, Twinsburg City Schools, Vermilion Local Schools and Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools have announced they will be closed Friday.
DeWine and Acton also talked about nursing homes, saying they are most vulnerable.
"The fatality rate of this increases with age, and we know our senior citizens are most at risk," Acton said.
Acton will be issuing an order for nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to limit one visitor per day for each resident. Each visitor and staff member will have to sign a log to keep track of who enters each facility. The next step would be to ban all visitors, but DeWine said the state is not at that step yet.
DeWine said another order will be signed this week for mass gatherings in the state, and it hasn't been drafted yet.
"The closer you are in proximity to people, the bigger the risk," DeWine said.
Three cases were confirmed in Cuyahoga County on Monday, the same day DeWine declared a state of emergency.
The press conference follows the World Health Organization's declaration of the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic Wednesday, meaning the disease has spread outside containment measures across the globe.
The fourth confirmed case comes not even 24 hours after nearly a dozen Ohio colleges suspended in-person classes amid the COVID-19 outbreak, including Kent State, the University of Akron and Case Western Reserve University.
During a press conference Tuesday, DeWine asked all colleges to move classes online, and events to limit spectators. The Mid-American Athletic Conference is limiting spectators at its women’s and men’s basketball championships to credentialed personnel, student-athlete family members and credentialed news outlets. The tournament started Wednesday and is scheduled to end Saturday.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson also canceled the Cleveland International Film Festival which was set to start at the end of the month.
As for testing, Acton said the hospitals will have to limit patients to serious cases to not overwhelm the health care system. Most of the testing will be done in hospitals, and tests are mostly covered by health insurance. Officials said 80% of COVID-19 patients don't need to be hospitalized.
"We have the ability to control risks," DeWine said. "Everything in life involves a risk. What we should not be doing is taking unnecessary risks. Each one of us is having to change how we live, and as Dr. Acton said, 'We will get through this.'"
There have been more than 900 cases confirmed nationwide and nearly 30 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). COVID-19 has affected more than 100 countries with nearly 120,000 cases worldwide.
Tips from the CDC to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Avoid unnecessary contact (handshakes, high-fives, etc.)
- Avoid large crowds
- Wash hands for more than 20 seconds
- Hand sanitizer is good in a pinch
- If you're sick, stay home
- Stay away from others who are sick
The Ohio Department of Health has opened a call center for questions relating to the coronavirus: 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634).