The Hamilton County commissioners voted Thursday to declare a state of emergency concerning COVID-19.
The county's action follows similar measures from Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
"It will allow us to accept federal funds to respond to the emergent nature of what's happening in our community and what may happen in our community," said County Commission President Denise Driehaus. "And it also allows up to speed up purchasing. So, as we need to do things at the county and get materials and supplies, we will be able to do that more quickly."
Driehaus also said the emergency declaration will raise public awareness about the virus.
Interim County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman said public health officials know from previous pandemics, the sooner officials take action, the sooner they can slow down the spike of illness. He said that's why there's been a focus on large events.
"When we are able to slow down the spread of disease and slow down the incidence of humans getting sick, we're able to keep the numbers within a more controllable level," Kesterman said. "So, it's extremely important that we take the interventions now, including the state of emergency, to ensure that we are not going to see that spike. Everything we do today will prevent that spike from happening is our belief."
The Hamilton County Health Department is tracking several potential cases of COVID-19 in the county, but Kesterman said officials have been asked not to provide those numbers publicly.
"Anytime somebody has been associated with a person under investigation, is a person under investigation, or has known travel history, those individuals are being tracked at a county level," Kesterman said. "The county health department then contacts those individuals and we have done so. Hamilton County Public Health has had those contacts and still has those contacts countywide. So we are tracking those individuals once per day."
Kesterman has recommended that residents wash hands frequently, avoid unnecessary large gatherings, and practice social distancing.
Hamilton County Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director Nick Crossley said his message is "prepare don't panic." Crossley was asked how the public should respond to that message, when they see so many events being canceled over concern about COVID-19.
"Again, we can show you the research that shows if we don't have these large gatherings - 250 people is still a large gathering, but especially the much larger gatherings - that we can contain this," Crossley said. "And we do anticipate this being for a short time. So, I think, you know, you see some seasons canceled, some seasons delayed."
DeWine issued an executive order Thursday banning gatherings of 100 people or more in a single space at the same time.
Hamilton County's various departments are taking additional measures:
- The sheriff has stopped all non-essential inmate visits
- The clerk of courts is recommending residents use online systems to interact with the courts where possible and avoid coming to the courthouse
- The courts are prohibiting non-essential visitors from the courthouse
- Starting next week, the county will modify the jury selection system so 150 to 200 people aren't sitting around a jury room waiting to see if they're needed for cases
- The Board of Elections is taking measures to ensure polling places for next week's primary election are sanitized. The BOE is also still seeking poll workers after some older workers have asked not to work because of concerns about COVID-19. The BOE is even asking county workers in other departments to help as poll workers.
Meanwhile Driehaus, Kesterman, Crossley, and County Administrator Jeff Aluotto will be holding weekly teleconferences starting Friday to update local government officials in cities, villages and township on the county's response efforts.