The novel coronavirus hasn’t impacted Fulton County as severely as other areas in the state and country but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t.
For that reason, county residents have to remain vigilant in their efforts to stem its increase, Fulton County Health Commissioner Kim Cupp said.
“Because of the nature of the virus – and it is affecting people differently, and we’re still learning about it – the fact is, it is causing a spectrum of symptoms, as well as within the symptoms a spectrum of severity,” she said.
As of June 28, Fulton County recorded 57 cases, of which seven were hospitalized and 53 were no longer being monitored. The age range of county COVID-19 patients is between 0-79. A lab test called Polymerase Chain Reaction, which determines if coronavirus RNA is present, has been available through area physicians’ offices and at pop-up test sites.
The county’s statistics are provided through the Ohio Disease Reporting System, a longtime state database, and are updated daily on the county health department’s website. Coronavirus results are required to be reported to the system, which all Ohio county health departments check daily for possible investigation.
All Fulton County COVID-19 cases are included in the system; county residents who die or are hospitalized elsewhere are added. But the accuracy of case numbers depends on the data information. Cupp said cases are counted according to the county of residence. She said when a case involves someone from outside Fulton County working within the county the health departments of each of the counties will communicate to gurarantee a follow-up.
“It really is the cooperation between health department to health department,” she said. “The system in place really is necessary to make sure we have that comprehensive follow-up.”
Cupp added that, as is the case throughout U.S. communities, many local residents who could be carrying the virus may not have been tested. “If you have mild symptoms, there’s really no cause for you be concerned and to go seek medical attention,” she said.
And despite reports that have placed a large amount of some states’ cases within nursing homes, the majority of local cases are not associated with the county’s five nursing homes, Cupp said.
She said the county’s ability to contact trace – identify persons who may have come into contact with an infected person – has the capacity for expansion. Currently, the Health Department’s nursing staff forms the primary tracing group, although two of the department’s health educators are also being trained.
“At this point, we’re able to do it with our existing staff,” Cupp said. She added that an individual trained through a seven-county Council of Government in northwest Ohio is also available, as well as tracers through the Ohio Department of Health, the latter at no cost.
Members of a Medical Reserve Corps group of volunteers have also been asked to train.
Fulton County continues to accept personal protection equipment (PPE) from the state, “just so that we are prepared in the event there were an outbreak in long-term care or we had a significant increase in cases in the hospital,” Cupp said. She said there is still a continued strain on the supply chain but “we are definitely in a better position today than we were in March.”
Connor Rittwage, an epidemiologist who works for seven Ohio counties including Fulton County, said the U.S. has never before experienced a virus like the coronavirus. “It’s very serious in being novel, it’s new. This is the first time that something has spread so rapidly,” he said.
Eighty percent of COVID-19 cases remain in the mild and moderate categories, but the people in those groups can prove problematic.
“They’re the ones that can result in more illnesses in people who can’t protect themselves,” Rittwage said. “When we do masks with other measures we can reduce risks even more. Distancing ourselves has helped, and we have to continue those actions. Going back in normal society, we have to make changes to things prior to COVID. It’s really creating a new normal.”
Rittwage said he doesn’t understand why people defiantly refuse to wear masks. “The key message needs to be, it’s not a political purpose, it’s not meant to control people, the science seems to support it,” he said.
He also disputes the suggestion that coronavirus is no worse than the common flu.
“The flu has been around for years. We know what we’re dealing with,” Rittwage said. “A lot of viruses have similarities but this is new. We don’t know how (coronavirus) may change or adapt, and we don’t know what the long-term effects are. Err on the side of caution, because we don’t know what the true denominator is.”
Cupp agrees. “When you look at the ability of this virus to spread…that is something that we don’t see with the flu,” she said. “We don’t see individuals having the health implications as significant with the flu that we see with this virus. And we don’t see the ability to spread as quickly as with COVID.”
Increasing complacency among people to COVID-19 is also a concern because coronavirus has an incubation period many people either don’t understand or consider, Rittwage said. “What’s happening now will impact us in the next couple of weeks. It’s just an unknown, and nobody likes unknowns. If you’re in public and can’t socially distance, wear a mask.”
Cupp said Fulton County residents always have room for improvement.
“I understand it’s human nature – we don’t see the benefits of something that we can prevent. We only see things that happen,” she said. “So when you’re asked to do something to prevent something from happening, I think it is a challenge for just our human nature to really understand that there truly is a benefit.”
She advised following the three Ws – washing hands for 20 seconds at a time, wearing a mask or face covering, and watching distancing from each other. She said following those steps will help prevent a bigger and more significant coronavirus spread.
“We have people across the spectrum – some are very concerned, others are not,” Cupp said. “The low numbers (Fulton County has) are a benefit of good prevention, and if we stop doing this good prevention it is inevitable the nature of this virus hasn’t changed so we can anticipate seeing an increase in cases.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.