Is coronavirus in Ohio? ‘Any day now,’ says ODH director

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UPDATE MARCH 9, 3:10 PM: Ohio Gov. DeWine announced three people have tested positive for COVID-19 coronavirus. Click here to read the latest update.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio’s top health official said Saturday that the state will see its first confirmed case of the COVID-19 coronavirus “any day now.”

In Ohio, nine people have been tested for COVID-19, and all of them have tested negative.

However, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, M.D., MPH laid out a plan Saturday the state believes will help limit the number of cases and help contain the spread of the virus.

“Eventually, this will spread in the community, and eventually it might be something that gets tested for the same way as flu every season and be part of a respiratory panel,” Acton said.

“I’m setting a pick on Ohio right now trying to keep cases out, but you know we will have one any day now,” she added moments later.

According to the plan, the state is now able to test for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which will expedite the results.

DeWine said during an afternoon press conference that the Ohio Department of Health has, as of Saturday, the ability to test between 300 and 400 people for the virus. This will allow ODH to get results in less than 24 hours.

The state is also turning to private laboratories to conduct COVID-19 testing. So far, LabCorp offices in the state can test for the virus, and it is expected Quest Diagnostics will be able to test early this week. In addition, DeWine said it is expected some hospitals will be able to test within two weeks.

WATCH BELOW: ODH head says first confirmed case of COVID-19 could come “any day now”

As of 2 p.m. Saturday, there are no COVID-19 coronavirus cases confirmed in Ohio; five people are under investigation. There are 322 confirmed cases throughout the United States.

In addition, the Ohio Department of Health will update its numbers of people being investigated for exposure and, should the time come, confirmed cases seven days a week, up from just on weekdays.

All of the results of the tests, no matter where the tests are being conducted, will be sent to the ODH.

“We are making the most out of what we have to maximize our testing ability and to prioritize who gets tested,” DeWine said.

Acton said the ODH is setting up a three-pronged approach to the testing:

  • Highest risk — the patients at the highest risk of contracting the disease. Those include the elderly, those patients with preexisting conditions, those with compromised immune systems, and health care workers.
  • The rest of us — basically anyone who doesn’t fit into the highest risk category. With an estimated 80 percent of people able to fight the disease without hospitalization, they are encouraged to contact their doctor or health care provider and discuss their symptoms and other questions regarding where they may have come in contact with the COVID-19 virus. Should those patients be suspected of contracting the virus, they will be tested.
  • Sentinal surveillance — ODH will monitor outbreaks for flu-like diseases that don’t respond to traditional flu treatments, which may indicate COVID-19 cases spreading throughout the community.

Symptoms of the COVID-19 virus resemble those of the flu — cough, fever, and shortness of breath. It is other factors — travel history, for example — that determine whether the patient is tested for possible COVID-19 exposure.

“It is similar to a flu, it’s a little more severe,” Acton said. “It’s certainly more severe in high-risk folks like the elderly and people with preexisting health conditions and it’s a risk for our healthcare workers.”

Anyone with questions on coronavirus is urged to call the ODH Coronavirus Hotline at 1-833-4ASKODH (427-5634).

To prevent the spread of any virus including novel coronavirus, the ODH recommends people practice these preventative measures: 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. 

Watch Kristine Varkony’s Q&A with OhioHealth infectious disease Dr. Joseph Gastaldo:

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