76 people have died in Cuyahoga County due to COVID-19 - more than double the number who died from flu last year; County has seen 1,563 cases of COVID-19

April 28, 2020
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The Cuyahoga County Board of Health holds press conference updating citizens on the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday and Friday mornings.

Cuyahoga County Board of Health (CCBH) commissioner Terry Allan began the April 28 press briefing by recapping Governor Mike DeWine’s plan to reopen Ohio. On May 1, health care providers like dentists and veterinarians can return to work and hospitals will be permitted to perform procedures that don't require an overnight stay. Other industries like construction and manufacturing will be allowed to reopen, and some businesses that were allowed to remain open as essential, like grocery stores, will now have to follow “strict guidelines” to remain open.. Allan outlined that they will need to maintain six feet of distance between people or if that’s not possible to install barriers. Face coverings, masks, will now need to be worn at all times.

Face coverings, masks, will now need to be worn at all times.

“If I wear a mask I protect you from me. If you wear a mask we both are protecting each other and so there's the philosophy,” said Allan.

Allan went on to say that in places with shift work, like factories, it will be important to disinfect work stations, have fewer shifts, staggering lunch and break times, and to allow for enough space on a factory floor only allow 50 percent of fire code capacity to be on a floor at one time.

General offices will reopen May 4, Allan said that CCBH anticipates seeing a combination of workers on-site and off-site moving forward. He also stressed that there needs to be daily disinfection of common areas and desks and that events should be postponed when social distancing guidelines can’t be followed.

“All these guidance documents that have been created have been following what has worked for Ohio what has helped to flatten the curve so these should be familiar to us as we reopen, and we need to take them to heart,” said Allan.

Face coverings, hand washing and hand sanitizers are critical moving forward.

He said face coverings, hand washing and hand sanitizers are critical moving forward. Allan also said it’s important to have signs reminding people of what they should do and that they shouldn’t enter anyplace if they feel sick.

Allan also encouraged businesses to increase delivery and curbside options, and use contactless payment options.

Schools, day cares, restaurants, bars, senior centers, hairdressers and gyms are just some of the businesses that will remain closed.

Allan then shifted gears to highlight the importance of contact tracing, and of expanding it in the future.

“This has been in the public health playbook for a hundred years going back to issues around tuberculosis measles a whole range of infectious diseases,” said Allan.

He said so far the county has 1,563 cases of COVID19 and had established nearly 3,000 contacts.

“That's a lot of work lots and lots of work it can take up to several hours per interview depending on the nature of it to ascertain close contacts and follow up with close contacts,” said Allan.

He highlighted the governor’s plan to expand contact tracing throughout the state by June 1, including using some people the Ohio Department of Health has identified as having the skills to contact trace already, in order to increase the number of contact tracers in the state to 1,750. He said more than 1,000 people would be local hires working with local health departments in addition to state-trained employees. He said the state is creating a “strike team” which will, ideally, assist local health departments when there’s a cluster of cases and try to control the spread of the virus. He said there will also be a group of volunteers who will assist intermittently with surge needs.

Allan said it’s important to get contact tracing efforts set up in advance of the fall flu season, he also urged people to get flu shots.

We know that public health plays a critical role in here at Cuyahoga County.

We know that public health plays a critical role in here at Cuyahoga County. We’re committed to fill that role and to innovate ourselves and begin to ramp up and provide the necessary public health workforce to protect Ohioans now and into the future,” said Allan.

Dr. Heidi Gullett, CCBH’s medical director, began her part of the briefing with a thank you media and to those people who keep technology up and running throughout the pandemic. She also thanked those who are working on “zone collaboration” and hospital collaboration during the pandemic.

These numbers, as they continue to climb, are easy to look at [as] it’s just numbers but please remember that these are all families and these are all people in our community who deserve privacy but also our respect and support as much as we can give them,” said Gullett.

She then said that combining lab-confirmed and probable cases, Cuyahoga County, excluding the City of Cleveland, has 1,563 cases of COVID-19 with an age range of one-week-old to 101-years-old. The date of illness onset is from February 20 to April 26. Gullett said this shows that the virus is still in the community and it’s important that people follow advice and wear masks and socially distance as the state begins to reopen.

Lab-confirmed and probable cases, Cuyahoga County, excluding the City of Cleveland, has 1,563 cases of COVID-19 with an age range of one-week-old to 101-years-old

Seventy-six people have died as a result of COVID-19 Gullett said.

“For comparison this past flu season we lost 36 members of our community due to influenza-related illness so you can kind of get a sense for how that compares with the current pandemic that we're dealing with COVID-19,” said Gullett.

She then said that CCBH has been able to clear 420 people of COVID-19 which is a cause for celebration.

We are all at risk for getting this infection but we know some people are more at risk for complications from the infection” said Gullett. “So please think about what you can do to prevent yourself from giving this infection to others even if you don't think you have it. We know people in the community do have it without realizing it.”

Gullett asked that people continue handwashing, cleaning commonly touched surfaces, continue social distancing of six feet or more and that people wear masks as a part of a new normal. “This isn't just about protecting yourself from getting an infection this is about protecting other people from you,” said Gullett.

Allan then responded to a question about how new regulations will be enforced by saying that local public health departments have been deputized to help local businesses deal with issues like which are essential. He also mentioned that the county does have a phone number that people can call, and have, throughout the pandemic at 216-201-2000.

CCBH has been able to clear 420 people of COVID-19/

Allan then pivoted to the importance of wearing a mask even though it can be uncomfortable comparing wearing a mask to getting a flu vaccination to protect individuals and the overall community.

In terms of needing to increase staff to field complaints on the phone line Allan said CCBH has taken 6,000 calls to date and if they need additional help they will ask for it but said he’s proud of CCBH’s innovative response to date. In terms of contact tracing Allan said there are plans to increase capacity for a surge he said he believes that CCBH has the staff to ramp up if needed and said there are plans to hire additional staff if needed.

He then fielded a question about rule enforcement for businesses and said that the vast majority of businesses want to follow the rules. He said that they have many tools in their toolbox to deal with businesses following the health rules as they reopen, including education. CCBH has previously also sought a court order to keep a business closed, he said that court cases are very rare and that CCBH hasn’t needed to take that route in many cases.

Allan then responded to a question about safety in the county jail by saying that the county had prepared beginning in February for the likelihood that the virus would spread in the jail as it is a congregate setting.

He then responded to a question about testing capacity at the jail, saying MetroHealth has been responsible for it since the beginning.

“The key is in is in the response knowing that [with] the inevitability of cases it's a matter of how to contain it and I think that there's a lot of the community said they had a lot of practice with that and certainly at the correctional facility we believe they've taken every measure to prevent cases and prevent spread,” said Allan.

Allan said in response to a follow up about personal protective equipment (PPE) that the county is asking staff in the jail to outline what PPE they anticipate they will need for the following week to make sure the county is dispensing PPE carefully and responsibly.

Responding to a final question about increase staff for contact tracing Allan said that the announcement was only made the previous day and that CCBH is working with local and state health department colleagues to figure out what staffing should look like moving forward. Allan said it’s important to think about volunteers, and he cited Cuyahoga County’s volunteers from Case Western’s medical school and some public health physicians. He said in terms of other staffing it may involve other health department employees with programs that may have been suspended. Allan said the last step is to figure out how many additional staffers local health departments will need to hire.

We're committed to understand that better in the coming weeks and to begin to build up here as we move into the summer to plan for a potential surge in the fall as as we turn toward flu season so we've got some planning to do and we've got to get busy we can stop and rest for a moment but we've got to get back to work,” said Allan.

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