Defiance County's first coronavirus case been confirmed — prompting county commissioners to declare a state of emergency — but it came as no surprise to local health officials.
The county's health department issued a press release just before 2 p.m. today, noting that a person received a positive test for the COVID-19 virus.
In an interview Friday afternoon, Defiance County Health Commissioner Jamie Gerken said that the person was a 56-year-old woman. However, she declined to provide further details, such as where the woman lives.
With the first case in Defiance County, she said health officials are now busy with "contact tracing," a reference to attempts to find out with whom the woman has interacted recently.
Those persons in contact with her "will be instructed to self-quarantine and will be monitored for 14 days," Gerken stated.
Those and others in contact with someone who has, or has had, the virus would be asked to "self-monitor," according to Gerken. But it would "depend on what their interaction was, and we will advise after that."
Saying she knows it's a "scary time," Gerken suggested a clam outlook, noting that "80%" of people with coronavirus have only "mild systems and will recover just fine."
But she added that's why it's "really important" to observe the practices that health officials have been promoting, such as "staying at home and not getting into large gatherings, limiting your interaction. ... There could be individuals passing it on without knowing it."
The first case came as no surprise to Gerken.
"We know that there's community spread in Ohio," she said. "That's been evidenced by the cases that we've seen. Even though we have had zero cases or one case, we know that it's out there and there probably are more cases out there. That's why it's so important to push the recommendations ... ."
As for containing the virus, Gerken referenced a number of local changes this past week — some of them ordered by state officials — aimed at limiting contact. Local governmental offices have limited interaction with the public, and many of these developments have been published in this newspaper in recent days.
"We have community interventions in place that are designed to slow transmission in our community while lessening the impact," Gerken stated. "Our investigation is ongoing. Our main goal is to isolate those who are ill, identify close contacts and monitor for illness."
In communicating with local hospitals, she said officials have been checking to see if there is a "surge in a certain symptom ... but right now there are no respiratory alerts over the normal," she said.
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath — suggesting a respiratory issue — is one of the virus' symptoms.
Recommendations for combating the spread of disease include:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
• Practice social distancing by avoiding gatherings and remaining six feet from others.
• Avoid contact with sick people.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
• Stay home if you are sick.
As for commissioners' declaration of a state of emergency, their office issued a press release stating its function as:
• an executive action that has to be passed by a county's commissioners to qualify for state and federal resources like grants, equipment and supplies that might be needed.
• an administrative tool that allows a local government to streamline its operations temporarily. Instead of it taking a week or two to get approval for large purchases, officials can do it faster.
• a necessary step that gives a local government the legal permission to allow certain classes of its employees to work from home. (Some employees already are working from home.)
Commissioners also noted what a state of emergency is not:
• a martial law order that forces everyone to stay home.
• an order that means any other organization, business or jurisdiction's employees have to stay home from work.
• like a snow emergency.