By SARA ARTHURS

Staff Writer

Stay away from crowds if you’re older or in poor health — and everyone, regardless of age, should avoid visiting people in nursing homes.

Those were among the pieces of advice from Hancock Public Health on Tuesday, the day after Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health announced that three Ohioans had tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The people for whom the virus is most dangerous are older people and those with compromised immune systems.

Chad Masters, epidemiologist and emergency response planner at Hancock Public Health, said older people — especially those with chronic health conditions — should not go out in crowds. “Stay home,” he said.

And if you’re a young, healthy person, still be cognizant that you should avoid visiting older family members if you aren’t feeling well, or use FaceTime when you can, he said.

“It’s important for people in our county to understand that the general public is still at low risk,” said Hancock Public Health Commissioner Karim Baroudi in a press release. “As we’ve learned more about COVID-19, there are some high-risk populations we need to protect.”

The populations with a high risk include: individuals age 60 and older and people with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart or lung disease.

Hancock Public Health is encouraging people in this high-risk category to avoid crowds. To help protect the high-risk groups, individuals with low risk “should refrain from visiting them in settings such as long-term health care centers,” the press release states.

DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, announced Monday that Ohio has three confirmed cases of COVID-19, all in Cuyahoga County. DeWine also declared a state of emergency in Ohio.

“This is what we have expected, and public health is ramping (up) surveillance while working closely with our local and state partners to mitigate potential spread of the virus to our community,” Baroudi said.

Masters said the health department is getting a lot of calls, including a man who called Tuesday to ask if anyone was being tested or is under investigation in Hancock County.

The answer is no, at least for now.

If someone in Hancock County does test positive, there’s a plan in place.

Masters said the health department would work with them on ensuring that they self-quarantine. The agency would also do “contact tracing” — that is, determining who the patient had been in contact with. (This is a process the health department already follows for other illnesses.) Those contacts would also be monitored for 14 days, and would be asked to stay home. The health department would check in with them every day via FaceTime, asking how they are feeling and asking that they take their temperature.

If someone who is under investigation does develop symptoms and needs to go to the hospital, Masters will advise them to notify the hospital first, to let medical personnel know they’re on their way, rather than just showing up at the emergency room. Or, the person could call 911 to be transported by EMS if it’s an emergency.

If you’re a member of the general public and think you might have coronavirus, Masters encouraged starting with your primary care doctor — but, again, call first before just showing up.

Masters said he’s communicating with long-term care facilities, and they are being encouraged to be “really looking at their visitor policies. … We don’t want people bringing things in, and we don’t want people taking things out.” He said most local nursing homes are already screening people who come to visit.

He expects Baroudi to be advising 50 North, Findlay’s senior center, if they might need to change their schedule of activities and events.

“We’re having the conversations,” Masters said, adding that these include conversations with health care providers and other entities like schools and the University of Findlay.

Masters again encouraged people to wash their hands to prevent the spread of illness. In addition to washing your hands (often, for 20 seconds), community members are encouraged to stay home from work or school if you are ill; cough or sneeze into your sleeve; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and stay away from people who are ill.

Hancock Public Health, the Ohio Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have more information online at hancockpublichealth.com; coronavirus.ohio.gov; and cdc.gov.

The Ohio Department of Health has also opened a call center for COVID-19 questions that is available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The number is 833-427-5634.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494

Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs

Twitter: @swarthurs

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