The Columbus Board of Health today declared a local public health emergency giving the city extra safety measures to respond to COVID-19 cases. The declaration allows for the quarantine and isolation of individuals with the virus and as a last resort law enforcement involvement for any instances of non-compliance.
The declaration also mandates testing and treatment when necessary, for instance a containment zone. After today, the city's recreation centers will be closed through April 3rd to coincide with the state's closure of schools. Columbus Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts says by the middle of next week, there will be multiple testing locations around the city.
"The testing is testing, it is not screening," Dr. Roberts clarified. "So if you think you are exposed but you are completely asymptomatic, you will likely not be tested for COVID-19. You need to have respiratory symptoms. You need to have been evaluated by a provider. We need to know that you don't have the flue, so we have to do a test to rule out the flu. Once that criteria is met, then we can get you tested for COVID-19. We can do that all in one setting depending on the situation. Right now there are 25 individuals in Columbus and Worthington that are being tested for COVID-19. Of those 25, only 3 are at the Ohio Department of Health. The other 22 are at private labs in our community.
Roberts says results are typically processed in 3 to 5 days. Roberts also put into perspective the importance of all the precautionary measures being taken locally and statewide.
"It's not like the flu," Dr. Roberts said. "Flu, we're very familiar with. It's a virus that's been around for years. We know how it operates. It usually starts to show itself in the community in October. We see a peak anywhere between December and February. We start to see a decline in cases by April or May. We have a vaccine for it, and we have treatment for it. We know how that infection behaves itself. COVID-19 is something we've never seen before. We have no idea how it will respond with time. We don't know if it'll get worse in the summer months or get better in the summer months. We have no vaccine for it therefore no one has any immunity to it. Even those of us who don't get a vaccine for flu, which I hope is very few of us. But for those who don't get a vaccine for flu, we all have some immunity to it because our bodies have seen it before. Either we've had it ourselves, or we've been exposed to it. That is not the case for COVID-19. So when your body sees this virus, we don't know how most people are going to respond."
Roberts says the last four months of data shows that 80 percent of people will have mild symptoms, but she notes that it's unknown whether the virus will mutate or get worse. Meanwhile, the city will also be working with Columbus City Schools to maintain lunch and after school meals for those who qualify. The city's looking at transporting food directly to these families instead of having some mass gathering. Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther urged residents to maintain a sense of kindness, patience and flexibility as things change. The best advice remains to - wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when not feeling well.