Cincinnati Agencies Discuss Coronavirus Preparedness

Mar 10, 2020

A community summit reviewed general coronavirus information on Tuesday, best practices and recommendations for how businesses, schools, agencies and the community should prepare for COVID-19.

Officials recommend proper handwashing and cough/sneeze protocols, social distancing, staying home if you're sick, and having plans in place for families, businesses, employees. Companies should have appropriate sick leave and work-from-home policies as well as staffing concerns and needs. Routine cleaning of high-touch surfaces (daily), offices, workplaces, schools and public spaces should occur.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if someone believes they may be experiencing symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) they should:

  • Stay home except to seek medical care if necessary
  • Isolate yourself from family members and others and limit contact with pets and animals
  • Call ahead before visiting a medical provider
  • Contact your local health department, which can help you evaluate your symptoms and help you assess whether you meet the criteria and any next steps.

The Ohio Department of Health has an information call center open daily 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634).

Remain Calm

"We know it's coming and may already be here undetected," Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley told the gathering. "It's better to be preventive than reactive."

Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore reiterated that sentiment. "It's not a matter of if, it is when."

Working together is important, she said. "Let's be calm; let's be thoughtful; let's be intentional and be deliberate in what we do and how we do because we're about preventing because we want to protect and we want to prevail so that we have minimal impact and community spread."

What About Opening Day?

City officials are not recommending events be canceled at this time, Cranley said, adding "We reserve the right to make a day-to-day determination. There have been decisions made about canceling international travel from city departments.

"We are asking people who have asthma to avoid large crowds. We're asking people to keep distance, to cough into their elbow, to wash their hands. The Reds and FC Cincinnati met with the city manager and the city administration (Monday) and based on the current risk profile of the community, they have the proper protocols in place. If the risk profile changes, we will re-evaluate as we go forward. ... They are creating lots of sanitation opportunities both at Nippert (Stadium) and Great American Ball Park, and for the current conditions we believe it's okay and we'll continue to evaluate daily."

Division of Emergency Management Assistant Fire Chief Sherman Smith said the Emergency Operations Center is continually preparing and running scenarios.

Testing

Health Commissioner Melba Moore said there's a limited number of testing kits - enough for 300-400 individuals - though there is also private testing available from at least two companies. She said the department is using a three-pronged approach to testing.

"One: the sickest of sick will be tested. The second group are individuals who are coming in contact with their primary care provider, calling their primary care office and those providers will do a screening assessment to see if someone meets the criteria for COVID-19. If not, they'll just take a sample to see if they have the flu and then go from there for the testing. The other piece is that hospitals are looking to establish their labs getting the reagent so they can test as well."

Since tests are currently being run through the state, the turnaround time is longer than in other states. Testing is free, Moore said.

Dr. Dustin Calhoun, medical director of emergency management with UC Health, said people should follow proper isolation practices if they think they've been exposed, and not be worried about the number of test kits.

"If you are well enough that you don't need an acute medical intervention, then with your illness whether it be the common cold or COVID-19 or influenza, if you follow the guidance that's being given out about handwashing, isolation, cough hygiene and those sorts of things, and you keep yourself at home when you have these symptoms so you're not spreading them to others, the knowledge of whether it's specifically COVID-19 or not doesn't actually benefit you individually."

Calhoun said people shouldn't be afraid. "I don't want people to fear when they're not able to get that test or get that knowledge, they should treat this disease like other infectious disease, protect themselves and others from it, and as long as they're not requiring acute medical intervention, they're well to keep themselves isolated at home and not spread the disease to others and the actual name of what particular virus they have will ultimately will probably have very little effect on them.

At least one person was tested over the weekend and the results were negative, Moore said. Cincinnati Public Schools closed its Academy of World Languages Tuesday for cleaning after a teacher went into voluntary quarantine.

Concerns About Those Experiencing Homelessness

Several people attending the summit asked about the city's plans for low-income seniors and people experiencing homelessness. Officials offered to provide messaging about proper hygiene and suggested groups try to encourage social distancing, though they acknowledged that may be difficult during community meals. They offered no specific guidance at this time.

The city says it can help companies with signage and messaging if requested. It can also offer guidance on cleaning, the city manager said.

When asked about the possibility of public handwashing stations being placed around town, officials said everything was being considered but did not indicate a plan for such stations is in place.

Cincinnati Public Schools

Cincinnati Public Schools' Superintendent Laura Mitchell said the district has an updated pandemic plan. It includes stepped up cleaning of buildings and buses and ensuring additional handwashing and sanitizing supplies are available in all buildings.

She said the district can offer lessons online or provide paper packets for those without internet access should in-person schooling need to be canceled for a length of time. The school board is expected to provide more information during a Wednesday meeting. The district is also looking into how it might handle meal plans because, she said, "in many cases our kids depend on breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner" at school.

Cincinnati City Council

Cincinnati City Council will vote Wednesday to appropriate $1 million for COVID-19 response. Most of the money will be used to buy additional medical and safety supplies for first responders and health department employees. City Manager Patrick Duhaney told council members there will likely be additional funding requests in the future.

Council will also vote on a motion from Council Member Greg Landsman asking for a report on several COVID-19 items. One of those includes reviewing the city's current sick leave policy and what steps might be considered to send non-essential employees home. Another asks what role the city should play in deciding whether major public events should be canceled and how those announcements will be communicated.

From The Ohio Department Of Health

The Ohio Department of Health created a household preparation checklist. You can download it here.

COVID-19 checklist by WVXU News on Scribd