MIAMI COUNTY — Health Commissioner Dennis Propes of Miami County Public Health spoke about the coronavirus during the Tuesday meeting of the Miami County Commissioners at the invitation of the commissioners, providing information about the coronavirus and also how the county is beginning to prepare for the coronavirus reaching Miami County.
The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December from possibly some type of animal at a fish market. Propes said it is believed the coronavirus came from bats and was somehow transferred to humans. The coronavirus is a respiratory disease, similar to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and complications can include pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Propes said the mortality rate for the coronavirus is currently between 2-3 percent, which he compared to the mortality rate for the season flu, which is less than 1 percent. Approximately 12,000 people in the U.S. die from the flu each year.
Propes gave rough estimates on the people affected by the coronavirus, noting those number changes quickly. Approximately 91,000 people in the world have the coronavirus, with approximately 80,000 of those people in China. The remaining 11,000 cases are spread over 60-70 countries. There are currently 43 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. with 100 presumptive positive cases that are under investigation.
There have been approximately 3,118 deaths world-wide due to the coronavirus as of Tuesday morning. There have been five deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S., all in Washington state.
“In Ohio, we have no positive cases,” said Propes, who said seven people have been tested in Ohio and have been found not to have the coronavirus, adding there are a couple hundred people in the state who are undergoing some level of observation.
Propes said Miami County Public Health has been doing situational awareness, as well as participating in conference calls with the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health. On Thursday, Propes will be participating in a summit Governor Mike DeWine has called for all of the state’s health commissioners.
“We’ve been fielding a lot of phone calls,” Propes said. He noted the health department has been assisting residents with a number of concerns, from providing recommendations to travelers to advising the public that packages and items from China are safe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “People receiving packages from China are not at risk of contracting the new coronavirus. From previous analysis, we know coronaviruses do not survive long on objects, such as letters or packages.”
Propes said that prevention of getting the coronavirus is similar to flu prevention, which includes washing hands, staying home when sick, avoiding others who might be sick, and disinfecting hard surfaces.
“A couple things that we hope we don’t have to start to think about, but it is a very real possibility, is when we start talking about if there is a large, wide-spread community aquisition of the virus,” Propes said. He said, if that were to happen, they may need to intervene by way of eliminating public and/or large gatherings and/or closing schools, churches, etc.
“Those are worst-case scenario items that obviously anything like that there would be a lot of discussion and dialogue with all of the partners in the county as to the steps that we take, as well as dialogue with our state and federal partners to make sure that any of those were implemented in the proper fashion (and under) the proper circumstances,” Propes said. “Tomorrow we are actually meeting with the schools to discuss these same issues with them. We’ve seen schools close down because of the flu (because) they don’t have the staff available to teach the students and they have a lot of students absent … It’s a similar type of scenario.”
Later during the meeting, Miami County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeannine Pratt said her department had concerns about how the court would function if there was a limitation on public gatherings, and she asked if there was a definition for what would be considered a public gathering.
“Not yet,” Propes said. He said some countries in the past have defined public gatherings as any gathering over 5,000 people, which he said would be a “huge event.”
“It’s a matter of perspective, too,” Propes said. Miami County has a population of approximately 100,000, so he said a gathering of 5,000 would be “pretty huge.” For someplace like New York City, though, that would be an everyday occurance.
“We’ll look at situations more than anything,” Propes said. “As far as operation-wise, I think most of our day-to-day operations would continue on. The limiting factor would be if staff become ill and are no longer able to come to work.”
Pratt also asked about the health department’s protocol in terms of starting conversations and making those decisions in regard to limiting gatherings and closing schools or similar entities.
Propes said they would begin by having discussions with the Miami County Prosecutor’s Office, as well as discussions with local superintendents and the Miami County Educational Service Center (ESC) if the health department were to talk about shutting down the schools.
Commissioner Ted Mercer asked Propes for the health department to share any updates that may arise.