With phase one of Gov. Mike DeWine’s plans to restart Ohio’s economy set to begin Friday, Highland County Emergency Operations Center Public Information Officer Branden Jackman said to expect a measured restart both Friday and Monday.
“We can’t scream yeehaw and fling the doors open,” he said during Thursday’s Facebook Lve event from Hillsboro’s North High Business Center. “We would see a resurgence and a spike, and like I’ve said all along, this won’t be an at-speed opening.”
He said to expect waiting periods such as what is already in place for Friday, Monday and again on Tuesday, May 12, where the plan is “to open and let it sit and simmer, and see how it works.”
Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner used the analogy of a light switch when it came to Gov. DeWine’s order in March to shut down non-essential businesses in the state in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“Everything got shut down so we could get a handle on how we’ve been impacted so far,” Warner said. “Then as we start to open things back up, we’re not using a light switch but rather a dimmer so we can slowly turn things back on, measuring our impacts, looking at our hospitalization rates and ICU rates, and making sure we don’t go too fast and get ourselves in a position of what we’ve seen in other states.”
Friday’s phase one restart plan allows health care workers to return to their jobs, allows all medical procedures that don’t require an overnight hospital stay, and allows dentists and veterinarians to return to work.
Phase two on Monday has manufacturing, distribution and construction being allowed to resume, with all employees, employers and clients required to follow safety practices, including wearing masks, conducting daily health assessments and having a limited capacity of 50 percent of the businesses’ fire code.
On Tuesday, May 12, consumer retail and services will be allowed to reopen, with all employees and customers required to wear facial coverings.
The opening status of bars, hair salons, barbershops, restaurants, gyms and day cares is still being debated in Columbus.
Updating the COVID-19 status in Highland County, Warner said that as of Thursday afternoon the county had nine confirmed and three probable cases, but added that two of the probable cases were being reviewed by state health officials to see if they met a surveillance or clinical definition of the disease.
He said that one of the confirmed cases may be dropped from the Highland County count, since one of the nurses determined the person in question was actually a Clinton County resident.
“We had our first fatality listed yesterday, which caught us off guard since we didn’t realize anybody was in that bad of shape,” Warner said. “What happened was someone checked the wrong box on the vital statistics records, so we tracked down the doctor and the medical records, did a quick review to verify that it was indeed a mistake.”
Other questions posed to Jackman and Warner on Thursday included:
• Antibody testing: Warner said that there were many antibody tests in use across the country, with some more accurate than others. The question remains as to which are the most accurate, since the Food & Drug Administration hasn’t yet done a detailed review of them. Highland Health Providers was planning to purchase additional antibody testing kits in the future, he said, and predicted increased testing in the days ahead.
• New symptoms of COVID-19: Early in the diagnosis of the disease, three major symptoms were identified: fever, shortness of breath and cough. Warner said the new list of symptoms has been expanded to include chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and a new loss of taste or smell. He said that the symptom of diarrhea had also appeared in 40 percent of patients that tested positive in the Cleveland area early on.
• Quarantines involving nursing homes: If a cluster of cases appears in a nursing home, Warner said, the patients would be immediately isolated from the general population and quarantined in their own room. He added that a COVID-19 patient from the outside community would not be quarantined in a nursing home, and that in his opinion Highland District Hospital and the local extended care facilities are both well-prepared in the event of an outbreak.
• Wearing of masks: He said that at the present time, in line with DeWine’s most recent directive, the wearing of masks was going to be optional for both clients and customers, unless that business decided to make mask wearing mandatory.
• Closure of churches: Jackman said the state never actually ordered churches to close their doors, referring to them as “leaders of the community” who chose to close for the safety of their congregations. Warner added that some version of the stay-at-home order would continue to be in effect, primarily the one discouraging gatherings of 10 or more individuals in one place.
• Use of private and RV campgrounds: Fixed structures, cabin rentals and existing RVs with porches or decks built around them would be open for use, Warner said, and leases or long-term agreements for cabins or RVs would be permitted, but weekend or transient use would be prohibited under pending state guidelines.
More than 100 people logged in to Thursday’s Facebook news conference and posted their questions and comments.
Both Jackman and Warner said that their offices will hold the Facebook Live stream every week at 12:30 p.m. Thursdays.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.