YOUNGSTOWN — Though there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 — also called the coronavirus — in Ohio, local health officials are still on alert, coordinating with health providers, public schools and first responders on preparedness.
Ryan Tekac, Mahoning County health commissioner, on Monday only had time to speak briefly with Mahoning Matters about local response to the virus outbreak — which has sickened more than 89,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000, six of whom lived on the U.S. West Coast — before taking another of the department’s regular conference calls with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since January, when the World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international public health emergency, Mahoning County Public Health’s nursing division has been in “constant contact” with the Ohio Department of Health, Tekac said.
The Mahoning County Health Care Coalition, comprised of dozens of private health providers and public entities like Mercy Health and Youngstown State University, met Monday morning to receive the latest information on the virus and how to prepare for a potential local outbreak, Tekac said.
The department is directing those officials and local residents who want to know more to the department’s website, MahoningHealth.org, which contains links to the CDC website, as information about the virus is “ever-changing,” Tekac said.
Next week, Susan Kovach, the department’s deputy director of community health, is set to meet with county school officials to discuss contingencies in the event of an outbreak, Tekac said.
Tekac reinforced the CDC’s hygiene recommendations to guard against the highly contagious illness.
“It’s not a time to panic. It’s a time to just be aware and be cautious and to start practicing some of these tips,” he said.
He reminded that influenza has been far more deadly this season, killing about 16,000 people to-date.
Some of the 75,000 coronavirus testing kits being provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services arrived in the state Monday, meaning state labs will soon be able to test for the virus. Currently, no lab in Ohio can test for the virus, meaning swab-test samples from suspected cases must be sent to a CDC lab in Atlanta — a process that can take up to 72 hours for results, said Melanie Amato, Ohio Department of Health spokesperson.
These kits must still be validated before in-state testing can begin, she said.
“We hope to have [the kits] up and running later this week or early next week,” Amato said.
The department in January categorized coronavirus as a “Class A” disease, requiring suspected cases to be immediately reported to the state.
All subjects in the state’s seven suspected cases of coronavirus have since tested negative for the disease, Amato said.