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Words from the Salem Health Commissioner

Dear Salem Citizens,

Currently, in the state of Ohio we have 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus, nine of those cases being within a 70-mile radius of Salem. This number will continue to rise due to the recent availability of our state laboratory in Reynoldsburg, being able to test more people (as of March 6) and not having to go through the CDC. In the state of Ohio we are currently using four labs: one being our state, two being private sector, and one being the Cleveland Clinic. This means is you will see a jump in cases from here on out. This is not a reason to panic, but it is causing the following events to occur in our community such as the governor deciding to follow other states and issuing orders pertaining to mass gatherings and closures.

The reason for these physical measures is not due to the lethality of this virus to the entire population but simply to slow down what is called the pandemic curve.

What we currently know about the novel coronavirus is that it is infecting a pretty specific population (elderly 60-plus, with underlying conditions; cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, lung disease, etc) severely accounting for about 20% of all cases. A majority — approximately 80% of those infected — have mild to moderate symptoms if any at all (children and anyone under the age of 50 with no preexisting health conditions).

This means that the younger population have the ability to spread this virus without even knowing, it putting the older population at risk. Currently, there have been no children under the age of 10 die. This makes me as a mom pretty secure in knowing my child is not at risk. However, it does not mean that my child is not a risk to others, especially the vulnerable population I previously mentioned.

This will bring us back to the pandemic curve I mentioned earlier. A pandemic curve is the rate at which people become infected in a population. The novel coronavirus seems to be very transmissible, meaning easily given from one person to another like the common cold but with symptoms more like influenza. It is estimated that for every person that is infected, that person will infect 2.3-2.8 more people. This is more than the flu which is a one person infects one-person transmission rate. If you look statistically in this country, we are in the middle of a pretty severe influenza season.

The CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 34 million flu illnesses, 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths from the flu — 136 of the deaths being children. Flu season really ramps up in October and is usually over by the end of April. The coronavirus started being tracked Jan. 21 in this country. Currently we have 1,629 confirmed cases with 41 deaths. There are no pediatric mortalities. This is just a comparison of two pretty similar symptomatic illnesses.

Presently, due to this being a novel (new) virus there is no pharmacological interventions (vaccine or antiviral drugs like Tamiflu) available to slow down the rate of infection like there is for influenza. This is why we must use mechanical or physical means to decrease the curve. This means practicing good and frequent hand washing and antibacterial use; staying at home when sick; not touching face with hands; covering your cough; disinfecting surfaces; and, eating and sleeping well. However, these are all steps you can take personally to prevent the spread of any communicable respiratory disease.

Plus, we all know how good our kids are at this right? Now comes the intervention of government in the mechanical aspect of decreasing the pandemic curve. It is a responsibility of government to protect the health and safety of the public. Public is considered one person.

This is done through orders and regulations. Examples of these powers are where you are seeing people being put in quarantine orders, closing schools, and cancelling events. Yes, these mechanical measures are being enacted by government officials but not because of the lethality (potential of death) but due to the hospital systems becoming overwhelmed too fast and too much with 20% of people needing to be hospitalized in a potentially very fast time frame. To give a better example of this: it is way easier to take care of one sick kid at a time while you are well than to take care of three sick kids while you are sick yourself. The outcome of well being (mentally, emotionally and physically) for each member of your family is greatly increased if you can spread that illness over time.

That is what is happening with the seemingly drastic measures your seeing our government take. Preventing close contact (within 6 feet) greatly reduces the chance of this virus spreading exponentially — meaning really fast — and overwhelming our household (hospitals), moms (nurses and physicians) and kids (patients in need of ventilators and supportive care). Through past pandemics, we have learned that by decreasing the pandemic cure (rate of transmission) we have far more positive health outcomes and lower fatality rates with novel infectious diseases. This is due to better supportive care in hospitals to the vulnerable population until pharmacological (vaccines and antiviral medicines) means are provided which could be up to a year. 

There is no reason to be fearful. Aware and alert, but not fearful. You have the ability to protect yourself by practicing good mechanical and physical means, as well as, making smart choices on exposing yourself and loved ones unnecessarily for the next few months. Super simple right? Not for our fast-paced culture.

The government will help with limiting mass gatherings and closing certain businesses. However, it will be your decision as to whether to visit your family members that fall into that specific age rage when you just have a cough — because you and your kids will be fine. But will grandma or grandpa? Or to send your child to school with a fever and allow them to exponentially be little transport vessels. Make the right one. In our bathroom I have a wall art that says: “wash your hands, and say your prayer, because Jesus and Germs are everywhere.”

This is extremely true. Even though I am a scientist educationally, I am a child of God and He will never leave or forsake us, so we shall not live in fear of what we see, but have faith in what we don’t, and that is He will protect us. So anytime you want to get on social media or listen to a true but not fully explained internet article, make a better decision and pray that God will take away that fear and give you strength.

If you have any questions or concerns you can always reach out to me email at lhayes@cityofsalemohio.org. The Ohio Department of Health has one, you can reach the call center (7 days/week from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH, you can also get the latest information and guidance at http://coronavirus.ohio.gov . This call center is employed with epidemiologists and communicable disease specialists, so ask away.

Sincerely and God bless,

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