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COVID-19 arrives in the Ohio Valley; 2 cases confirmed in Belmont County

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine addresses members of the media during a press conference updating the public on COVID-19 on Thursday, March 12, 2020 at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. A fifth case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, was confirmed in Ohio earlier Thursday. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The coronavirus has come to Belmont County.

County Deputy Health Commissioner Rob Sproul made the announcement Friday afternoon following a press conference hosted by Gov. Mike DeWine. During the event, Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, announced that at least one person in Belmont County had tested positive for coronavirus, or COVID-19. Sproul elaborated, saying a man and a woman in their 50s have tested positive.

“These individuals have been quarantined in their home and we’re monitoring their health,” Sproul said. “We’ve also contacted individuals who have had contact with them.”

He said the couple were tested earlier this week at the health department office. The Ohio Department of Health informed him of the positive results Thursday.

Local authorities have been building a contact list and interviewing people. Sproul said the man and woman had attended a political event in Washington, D.C., where a Cleveland resident was exposed to and later tested positive for the virus.

All three attended the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, held Feb. 26-29 in National Harbor, Maryland.

“They felt (ill) … a few days prior (to being tested), but they really didn’t put 2 and 2 together until the person from Cuyahoga (County) tested positive. Then (they realized) … ‘It’s not just a cold or feeling a little off. … We were at that same conference.’ Then they kind of made the connection.”

Sproul declined to say where the couple’s home is located or how many others are under investigation.

“We’re awaiting results before we can say whether they’re positive or not, but there are others being tested,” he said.

Sproul said the man and woman are experiencing flu-like symptoms such as a fever, sore throat and shortness of breath.

“Hopefully in 14 days we’ll test them again and they can go about their normal lives,” he added.

Sproul said test results could be received within eight hours of administering a test; however, because multiple tests are being conducted, it likely will take longer for most people to receive results.

“If there’s multiple tests, it can take longer. We’ve heard anywhere between two to four days,” he said, adding that more information on Belmont County residents who are being tested could be available early next week.

More positive cases are expected.

Sproul said the people the couple were in contact with also will be placed under a 14-day quarantine.

“With the number of cases predicted to increase due to community spread, the Ohio Department of Health has taken large, necessary steps to try to get ahead of COVID-19 … due to the state moving from containment to mitigation strategy,” he said.

Sproul said the goal is to slow the spread of disease and protect vulnerable residents, such as the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, as well as health care workers. He said many medical facilities are now testing people outside their premises to prevent contamination in waiting rooms.

Sproul urged residents to stay home when feeling sick rather than rushing to the hospital. He suggested contacting a physician before visiting their office or utilizing telemedicine.

“Drive yourselves to the hospital, if you can do so safely, to allow ambulance service to respond to other, life-threatening, situations,” he urged.

“There’s no anti-viral for the COVID-19,” he said, reminding people to wash their hands, cover their coughs, stay home when sick and wipe down flat surfaces.

Sproul said he expects more testing kits to be received soon. He said the strategic national stockpile of protective gear and supplies could be opened. Sproul said it seems the virus cannot live in animals such as pets, but because it is a novel virus, this might change.

All Ohio schools have been ordered closed by Gov. Mike DeWine, and many local and county-wide events have been canceled to help stem the spread of the illness. Nursing homes and hospitals have curtailed visitors.

Sproul is a member of the Belmont County Corona Task Force. Commissioner J.P. Dutton, another member, said regular business at county buildings will continue in the near future but the option is open to reduce the courthouse to a skeleton staff if necessary. He said Belmont County Senior Services has halted transportation services.

For more information, call 833-427-5634 or visit coronavirus.ohio.gov.

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