MIAMI COUNTY — Local agencies are responding to ongoing concerns about the coronavirus, as well as taking extra precautions following instructions from Gov. Mike DeWine to ban gatherings of over 100 people and limiting visitors to nursing homes.
Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak released a press release on Friday assuring country residents that “essential emergency services will be maintained.”
“As you know, local schools have closed to limit potential exposure to our children,” Duchak said. “I have attended meetings with the Miami County Health Department and other elected officials who are monitoring the situation closely. I plan to keep the community updated with factual information relevant to real time data as it is received. I want to reassure the citizens of this county that essential emergency services will be maintained.”
Duchak said the March 17 Primary Election “will be conducted without disruption” as the Miami County Board of Elections has taken steps for increased cleaning and sanitation.
Duchak also recommended residents stay informed on precautionary measures, including practicing additional hygiene and sanitation standards.
“There is a lot of concern regarding the virus, and I recommend that everyone stay up to date with precautions that can be undertaken to mitigate risks to your and other’s health,” Duchak said. “I want to remind the community that, with some added precautions, we can navigate this troubling time and continue with our daily lives.”
The standards recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention can be found at: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
Local fire departments are also taking special precautions with their patients during the midst of the coronavirus concerns.
“We are taking universal precautions with all patients,” Captain Dustin Lacey of the Piqua Fire Department said. Universal precautions is an approach to infection control to treat all human blood and certain human body fluids as if they were known to be infectious for HIV, HBV, and other bloodborne pathogens.
“We are basically following the same protocols that we followed with the H1N1,” Piqua Fire Chief Brent Pohlschneider said.
The Piqua Fire Department is exercising caution when treating patients, but they are continuing to maintain their level service in the community. If they feel that a patient has a cough, they may choose to place a mask on the patient.
Troy Fire Department Chief Matthew Simmons said the only change to the department’s routine is EMS and its equipment gets a deep clean each day. The department is operating as normal, but with more attention to surface cleaning. Simmons said the department has more than enough respirator masks and gowns. “If it were to get really bad,” Simmons said supplies would last a month due to the overage of supplies from the 2009 H1N1 outbreak.
“Our guys are taking it in stride. We respond to emergencies every day, but we are taking it one day at a time,” Simmons said. Simmons said he’s in contact with local and regional authorities to plan accordingly. Simmons also noted Miami County is lucky to have two hospital systems, each with their own capability of handling emergencies. Simmons hopes that the community will respect emergency personnel to only use services reserved for emergencies if they are in a health crisis. Simmons added Ohio is in the middle of influenza season, as well as on the cusp of allergy season.
“We don’t want the public to panic either. The high-risk population is the elderly. We want to be able to respond to true emergencies. Unless you are sick, sick, sick, there’s not a lot we are going to do other than take you to a hospital,” Simmons said. Simmons said if someone suspects they are positive for the virus, to first contact the Miami County Public Health for testing options and take their directions for care.
Local health departments are also continuing to assist local agencies with information and advice on how to respond to the coronavirus.
“We’re maintaining situational awareness at this point,” Director Amy Welker of the Piqua Health Department said on Friday. Welker said the department has been in close communication with their partners in local government, the Ohio Department of Health, Miami County, and so on.
“We are fielding calls from the community,” Welker said. “We’re also making sure that our emergency plans are up to date.”
On Thursday, DeWine issued an order banning gatherings of over 100 people. The ban is not absolute and exempts airports, workplaces, restaurants, religious gatherings, weddings, funerals, and other events.
Welker said the department has not received any directives from the Ohio Department of Health in terms of enforcing that ban, but they have been working with local city government and organizers in response to that ban.
“We’re working with city government. We’re working with the city manager and all of our city departments,” Welker said. “If we know of an event that was scheduled, we’re talking to the organizer. Everybody’s been very supportive and understanding if things need to be cancelled.”
Welker said one example was Can’t Stop Running’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Run, which was cancelled.
The Piqua Health Department has also been in contact with local entities like the schools and nursing homes.
“We’re reaching out as needed and sending out information,” Welker said. “We’re really directing people to stay up to date on the most current, correct information.”
Welker referred people to the CDC, which is providing a number of guidance documents for businesses, schools, and other entities on how respond to the coronavirus.
Miami County Public Health is also working on responding to questions and concerns as they arise in the community, such as responding to the governor’s instructions on Thursday.
“We’ve had some people calling and asking some questions about that, so we’re working through that,” Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Nate Bednar said. “We’re looking to spread information and make sure everybody’s aware.” Bednar said they have also been working with local elected officials, as well as are available to answer questions from anyone, such as event organizers, who have questions about the DeWine’s ban.
In regard to testing locally for the virus, Bednar recommended if anyone is experiencing symptoms, such as a fever and shortness of breath, they should first reach out their healthcare physician to talk about the those symptoms and rule out other respiratory illnesses first. At that point, they can discuss testing with their doctors. Bednar also suggested that, for anyone who contacts their doctors with those concerns, they should call their doctor first before arriving at the doctor’s office in case the healthcare employees want to take any infection control precautions.
Nursing homes are also a concern, and Bednar said they have reached out to nursing homes to provide them with the latest information and guidance on how to prepare their facilities and respond to the virus.
“With COVID-19, we know that it’s a virus that impacts older people much more severely,” Bednar said. He added that people with underlying issues such as heart disease, kidney problems, diabetes, lung problems, and so on are particularly susceptible to the virus.
Bednar, like other health officials, emphasized paying attention to good sources of information, such as from the Ohio Department of Health and the CDC websites. Those websites are providing guidance, checklists, and other information useful for organizers, community organizations, schools, churches, and more.
“There is good information out there,” Bednar said.
Miami County Public Health also has a team meeting daily that is following updates on the coronavirus.
“We’ve been following this since the very beginning,” Bednar said. “As the situation’s progressed, we’ve expanded our team.”
Bednar said that if anybody has any issues or questions, they can reach out to the health department locally or call the Ohio Department of Health’s hotline at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH.
Visitors to nursing homes are also expected to be banned. According to the governor’s website, “At the urging of the nursing home industry, the Ohio Department of Health will soon update its current order limiting visitors to nursing and assisted living homes to reflect that no visitors will be admitted.”
Local nursing homes have been responding to the coronavirus already by limiting visitors, as well as boosting activities to try to help their residents get socialization.
Administrator Pepper Pegg at Piqua Manor said they are currently allowing residents one visitor per day during restricted visitor hours, but they will be discussing possible further limitations. Pegg said families have been thankful, though, to still be allowed to visit their loved ones in some way during this pandemic.
Pegg said, overall, “the residents are okay,” and she praised the Piqua Manor staff for maintaining “upbeat, positive attitudes” and stepping up to help the residents.
“They have done so well this week,” Pegg said. She added they will also be doing more to help keep the residents’ spirits up as the coronavirus continues to impact their day to day lives.
“We’re going to increase activities,” Pegg said. They will also be reaching out to residents who do not normally join in activities to make sure they have some social interaction if visitors get limited more or banned altogether. Pegg said that, even though it has been a long week, “It’s been an okay week.”
For more information on the coronavirus, visit the Ohio Department of Health’s website at odh.ohio.gov or the CDC’s website at cdc.gov.
Mike Ullery and Melanie Yingst contributed to this story.