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First COVID-19 death in region

The region has lost its first victim of COVID-19, one of Ohio’s 55 confirmed deaths from the virus, as of Tuesday.

“We’ve only had three (confirmed) cases in Athens County, and have sadly lost one of those individuals now,” said Dr. James Gaskell, Athens County health commissioner, on Tuesday. “This person was between 60 and 70, and had a number of underlying illnesses.”

Gaskell said the person who passed was hospitalized at the time of their death. He said he was not at liberty to share the name of the individual.

“Our concern now is what will the surge that’s coming look like,” he said. “I don’t think we can count on this organism to go away in warm weather. It’s a novel organism and we don’t know enough… But what we do know is the mortality rate is much higher than influenza, it’s even more violent.”

That urgency, he said, is fueling upticks in bed capacity in preparation for more hospitalizations — Ohio’s total hospitalizations Tuesday were documented at 585 including two in Washington County and 198 of those total hospitalizations being treated in intensive care units.

“What we’ve done in Ohio is we’ve bought precious time,” said Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, during the statehouse daily press conference. “We currently have the capacity in our hospitals, that’s absolutely where we want to be.”

Jennifer Offenberger, associate vice president of Memorial Health System, also confirmed this week that the system’s hospitals in Washington County are prepared for coming cases.

“We have plenty of bed capacity right now,” she said, noting the county had no new cases to report as of Tuesday.

Washington County currently has two people hospitalized due to infection of COVID-19 and a third personl under home quarantine.

“It’s really important to understand that we have empty beds in hospitals right now,” emphasized Acton.

She said the emptying of hospitals to prepare for a surge takes several weeks but is intentional, as hospitals dial down scheduled surgeries while maintaining active patient care.

She then implored Ohioans to religiously follow the stay-at-home order.

“I want you to think about every trip to the store you take now. Think about being out there strategically. I really need you to think about everything you can do,” she said.

Meanwhile, Gaskell noted, local hospitals are working to build up capacity not only for testing but also to treat patients.

“Last week (in Athens County) we did about 60 tests, but our testing has improved significantly since OhioHealth opened its off-site facility in the middle of last week,” said Gaskell. “And O’Bleness (Memorial Hospital, of the OhioHealth system) used to have a 50-bed capacity, but they tell me they’ve been adding to that to have 150 beds.”

Gaskell also noted the human capacity that may be needed to meet a surge in cases as this virus continues to spread throughout the Buckeye state.

“We have some professors at Ohio University who are practicing physicians who could be pressed into service if need be, and there are some retired physicians and retired nurses like my wife that may be pressed into service,” said Gaskell. “A lot of the diagnoses so far without testing have been made by primary physicians in clinical diagnosis with patient orders to go home and isolate.”

While Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Acton announced Tuesday that a more rapid test for the virus has been developed by The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and Battelle, tests remain limited.

“And we’re still triaging those for the worst symptoms, and noting whether you need to be admitted at the hospital,” said Gaskell. “Those that go home are told to monitor their symptoms… but symptom-free means three days with no fever, without medication, improving respiratory symptoms and at least seven days after the initial diagnosis. It’s not just a runny nose virus.”

DeWine and Acton also announced an order in effect today for all medical facilities to register their ventilator equipment supplies with the state on a weekly basis.

The ventilator reporting requires medical facilities to list the equipment they have and whether the facility is willing to allow the following machines and materials to be redeployed to another facility in the state.

And the governor, when questioned by the press pool present at the conference, noted that additional plans for regional deployment of resources depend on accurate reporting of local health departments to the press and public.

“My attitude has always been the more the public knows, the better,” he said. “Anytime that we can let the public what’s going on and share that information is the best thing.”

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

COVID-19 in Ohio:

Numbers:

Confirmed cases: 2,199.

Deaths: 55.

Hospitalizations: 585, including 198 in intensive care units.

Ohio counties reporting cases: 71 out of 88.

Age range: 1-99 with a median age of 53.

New orders:

$2 million investment by Jobs Ohio in Appalachia for small business aid.

Health order to keep track of where ventilators are in the state and who has them.

State order to maintain public water service – preventing water systems to shut off service due to nonpayment, backdated to Jan. 1.

Source: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

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