Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner was joined by health department nursing director Bonnie Rusch and Emergency Operations Center public information officer Branden Jackman during Thursday’s weekly Facebook Live news conference.
“We are sitting at 18 laboratory confirmed cases and where last week we had three probable cases, now we’ve jumped up to six,” Warner said. “Fifteen cases have recovered and we still have the one fatality, and we’ve got seven people who are actively sick and 16 who are in quarantine.”
Rusch joined the discussion to provide background information on contact tracing and what her department does when a positive case had been identified.
She said the process begins with a call to the person in question or, if they’re hospitalized, the medical professionals who are in charge of their care, to determine where they’ve been recently, and if they’re symptomatic.
“We go back two days prior to when they became symptomatic,” Rusch said. “We ask where they were, did they have any babysitters come over, any family members in the house, were they in the car with anybody, to help us get the full picture.”
She said at that point, her office contacts the persons the patient had been in contact with and poses the same questions to them as were put to the patient, with the data then entered in the state’s computer system.
The statewide data base then will send a text message to those individuals, she said, asking what their temperature is and are they showing any symptoms.
“It’s a standard of 14 days, but if they have symptoms, it’s a little bit longer,” Rusch said.
She emphasized that all of the gathered information was protected by federal law, and that with instances of close contract tracing, her office was looking for those who may have been in contact with the patient for at least 15 minutes, as opposed to a person who was briefly encountered when they may have been shopping.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines specify close contact as being within six feet with no personal protective equipment present for a period of 15 minutes.
Warner made the comparison between COVID-19 and measles, calling the latter “one of the most infectious pathogens out there.”
“If we had a measles patient walk through Walmart, we would be notifying people publicly about the potential of being infected, since one person can infect up nine others at a time,” he said. “With this disease, we’re looking at a reproductive value of about two and a half, spread by aerosolized droplets unlike airborne spread like in measles.”
Also discussed during Thursday’s Facebook Live stream:
• Mandatory testing for long term facilities: Warner spoke of a long-term plan put forth by the state for testing in nursing homes. He said testing would first be done with the staff, workers and employees to gauge any cases of COVID-19, with testing later expanding to the residents. The plan would be deployed in the next few weeks, he said, to two or three facilities in southwest Ohio that have active cases of the new coronavirus present, and that the testing would be performed by qualified members of the Ohio National Guard. He said at present, there were no COVID-19 cases in any of the long-term care facilities in Highland County.
• Progress on vaccine development: Warner said that the pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca was in development of a vaccine and was doing human trials to determine its safety and effectiveness. He said depending on its success, a vaccine could be available by later this year or within the 12 to 18 month timeframe that most scientists anticipate.
• Changes in testing criteria: Warner said the health department had partnered with Highland Health Providers and Highland District Hospital in providing more access to testing in the community. There will be a forthcoming announcement, he said, regarding antibody testing for first responders and health care workers with later expansion to the general public. As previously reported in The Times-Gazette, The Corner Pharmacy in Greenfield has partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to offer free COVID-19 testing, with drive-through and curbside test collection. Patients can make an appointment for testing online at DoINeedACovid19Test.com, or by calling 937-981-2454.
• How long can the virus survive on surfaces: The CDC had “reworded” its guideline as to the transmissibility of the virus on surfaces, but Warner reaffirmed that the most likely way to contract the virus is from direct contact with an infected person, regardless if they were showing symptoms or not.
• Lack of mask wearing in Highland County: “We’re not going to really see it here in Highland County or see people fully embrace some of these protective measures until we start to feel it in a big way,” Warner said. “And luckily, we’ve been spared from a lot of that, and I would be thrilled to never see a large number of cases here in the county.”
As of Thursday, the Ohio Department of Health confirmed the state had registered 33,915 COVID-19 cases, and Jackman said he could remember on March 9 when the statewide total was only three, and said the local team effort to him was truly impressive.
“The amazing part of this, from Highland District Hospital to Adena to Highland Health Partners,” he said, “to Charley Roman in Greenfield, to all of the elected officials — there’s been no ego in this, everybody has been doing everything and anything they could to be part of the team and move things forward — it’s definitely been a team effort.
The next Facebook live weekly update will be Thursday, June 4 at 12:30 p.m.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.