There are two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wood County.
But don’t let that low number fool you, said Ben Batey, health commissioner.
“We all need to be diligent and treat this like it is — it is potentially going to be widespread in Wood County,” he said.
“We just won’t have the confirmed case numbers to actually show that. But I don’t want anyone to have a false sense that, hey, because our case numbers stay in the low digits that we don’t need to take this seriously.”
Test kits to confirm COVID-19 diagnoses are not readily available and must be saved locally for the seriously ill and healthcare workers, Batey said.
He gave an update to county officials on Tuesday, in front of a sparse audience that was “social distancing,” keeping 6 feet of space in between each other in the commissioners’ larger hearing room at the county complex in Bowling Green.
Mayors and leaders from around the county dialed in to the tele-conference.
“I’m confident in saying that there is community-wide spread of COVID-19 going on in Wood County,” Batey said. “What you’re seeing, though, is we don’t have the testing capability at the local level or the state level to test these individuals who are all recovering at home.”
Most of these people are coming down with symptoms like shortness of breath, fever and cough.
“They’re being isolated at home at our direction,” Batey said.
“We’re still needing to save those tests for the most severely impacted individuals,” he said.
That includes those who are hospitalized and, in the future, health care workers, he said.
“This is trying to protect our health care workforce to make sure we have these tests available and get these workers right back to work, if they’re able to do so.”
Closing of all non-essential services — the order to stay at home was issued by the state and effective Monday at 11:59 p.m. — is essential to keeping coronavirus cases manageable, Batey said.
“This is why it’s important in Wood County that we try to get every single business to follow the intent of that order. You’re going to start to see this spread through work places.”
He encouraged businesses to have their employees work at home and, when that’s not possible, to keep 6 feet of space in between workers.
“Keep your distance as much as possible,” Batey said.
He does not expect testing to come into Wood County anytime soon.
“The hope is, at some point, we’ll have expanded testing,” Batey said, as the federal government and private labs ramp up their capabilities. “The issue that I see for us is I see those tests going to much larger populated areas.”
He cited New York City as an example.
“The tests are going to go where the need is most drastic,” Batey said.
The two cases in Wood County that were officially reported on Sunday were a Rossford couple who had just returned from Spain.
“I’m fully confident that they were of no risk to other residents of Wood County and no spread of COVID-19 would have come from those individuals,” Batey said. “The health department has been following up on other cases that look very suspect for coronavirus.”
Batey said everyone should prepare for a long haul.
“That’s the challenge right now: How long can we extend this out to get to that plateau point. This isn’t something that goes away in a week or two and we just bring everybody back together,” he said.
“This is going to be our new normal for a little while. I don’t see us getting back to large-scale gatherings any time soon.”
The first thing to return to normal will be getting people back to work, with social distance practices.
Batey is hopeful that a test is developed to tell whether people have immunity to coronavirus.
“We can get those people back to work. What’s going to be the biggest sticking point here is — at some point we’re going to have to get people back to work,” he said.
“We obviously all recognize we can’t live like this forever.”
Batey also said that Wood County received a personal protective gear shipment Tuesday morning.
“It’s not a lot. It’s essentially one pallet of masks and gloves and gowns,” he said. “When you think about it, it’s one small pallet for an entire county of 130,000 people — that’s not a lot to work with.”
He urged first responders around the county to conserve their resources.
Jeff Klein, director of the Wood County Emergency Management Agency, said that ultraviolet lights may be used to do some decontamination.
“Just put that in the back of your head because that might be a better way to go to maintain the stock we have,” he said.
Klein has received some supplies from Perrysburg schools and Penta Career Center.
“We’re not doing too bad,” he said.
Later in the meeting, Batey advised first responders to treat their masks like “gold.”
“At this point in time, I would not throw away any mask, any sort of PPE, because what we’re able to get to you, with our limited supply right now, may be all that you’re going to get for an extended period of time,” he said.
Bowling Green Mayor Michael Aspacher said he has had some manufacturers reach out to him about shifting their productions to hand sanitizer, or other things that could help with the crisis.
Batey said that people should be assured that Wood County is prepared.
“I feel confident that Wood County is in as best a position as we can be to actually respond to this,” he said. “We have the ability to do this ‘social distancing,’ that is going to help keep our spread down.”
“It’s up to us. We are in control of this,” he said. “If everybody does what we’re asking them to do, I think we’re going to have a fairly solid outcome.”