Local public health officials said Thursday they are working to educate the public about the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, and that includes a town hall meeting set for March 25 and involving representatives of several sectors of the community.
Nicole Balakos, Jefferson County health commissioner, said information about investigations of reported cases of the disease changes frequently.
“It’s very fluid. What (information) I give you this morning could be updated this afternoon,” she said.
Balakos and Mike Bolen, administrator of the Brooke County Health Department, and Jackie Huff, administrator of the Hancock County Health Department, said they have been in frequent contact with state health officials to learn the latest efforts to prevent and track the disease.
Balakos said the Ohio Department of Health has set up a 24-hour hotline to exchange information with local health officials and another hotline, available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, to field questions from the public.
The latter can be reached by dialing (833) 427-5634.
“They really went above and beyond in an effort to inform the public,” she said.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources also has set up a hotline, at (800) 887-4304 for anyone with questions, and has been posting updates and information on its website at dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19.
Balakos said the Ohio Department of Education has established a website, coronavirus.ohio.gov, to disseminate recommendations and suggestions for various situations, from whether to proceed with public events to caring for the elderly or a person with a chronic health condition.
Bolen noted the coronavirus is not fatal to everyone but because so many people have contact with senior citizens and others with weakened immune systems, “everybody should be concerned about it.”
“It may seem like just a cold to you, but if you have a sick child at home or an elderly parent, you should avoid contact with them,” he said.
“On the surface it looks like a lot of things,” Bolen said, noting a fever, cough and other symptoms of the virus are common to other diseases.
He, Huff and Balakos said they are issuing much the same advice offered to the public during flu outbreaks, which can lead to death for some.
That includes washing one’s hands often, covering one’s mouth when sneezing or coughing, staying home when sick and avoiding close contact with at-risk individuals.
Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Health Department, advises the elderly and those with chronic health conditions to avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated areas and stay at home as much as possible.
Those using prescription medications should use a pharmacy’s drive-through window or a delivery service when available.
Acton said they also should stay in touch with family and friends, so they will be aware of their condition, but discourage them from visiting if possible.
Family members and friends can pick up their prescriptions and food for them but bring them to the door, when possible, to avoid close contact.
Balakos noted state health officials have strongly discouraged public events at which at least 100 people are expected to attend.
She said in recent weeks she’s been consulted by organizers of such events, including the Campbell-Dickinson Run in Toronto.
George Komar of the Toronto Coalition for Revitalization, which holds the annual fundraiser for cancer patients, said concerns about the virus have led to the event being postponed.
He added a dinner for cancer survivors set to precede the run also has been postponed.
While attendance for the dinner wasn’t expected to exceed 100, it seemed wise to postpone in light of those who would be attending, Komar said.
Balakos said she’s enlisted several community leaders to share facts and discuss its impact from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 25 at the Prime Time Office on Aging.
In addition to Balakos and Dr. Mark Kissinger, the health department’s medical director; the discussion is slated to include Jefferson County Assistant Prosecutor Emanuela Agresta, Dr. John Figel, chief medical officer at Trinity Health Systems; Dr. Kenneth Woods, an infectious disease specialist with Trinity; Rob Herrington, Jefferson County emergency management director; Chuck Kokiko, director of the Jefferson County Educational Service Center; Steubenville City Manager James Mavromatis and Brenan Pergi, chairman of Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Coronavirus Task Force.
Balakos said the event will be livestreamed online so residents may view it at home.
Further details will be announced.
(Scott can be contacted at [email protected])
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