Shawnee State University announced via text alert Monday evening that three suspected cases of coronavirus were being investigated at SSU.
The university stated that the individuals, as well as possible contacts, were under quarantine and that results of testing for the virus were anticipated to arrive by Wednesday evening. Shawnee State University officials stated that there would be no interruption in campus operations in the meantime, and said they were working closely with both city and county health departments to handle the situation.
During their meeting Tuesday morning, Scioto County Commissioners briefly commented on the situation and relayed information from the Scioto County Health Department.
“I’m not going to comment hugely here, because really the ones that are the professionals on this are of course our health department officials, doctors. I know that SOMC and KDMC all of them are very much on top of this,” said Commissioner Bryan Davis. “I do have a statement from the health department basically and I’ll tell you the Health Commissioner Michael Martin is on top of this. They are working closely with the Portsmouth City Health Department and of course the officials at Shawnee State University as well as the hospitals. There are three suspected cases. I think that’s very important for everyone to hear is that we have suspected cases of coronavirus or COVID-19, being investigated on the campus of Shawnee State University.”
Commissioners read the statement from Portsmouth Health Department that stated the three individuals were displaying symptoms of the virus, and only one person was being tested. The release reiterated the fact that classes would still be in session at the university and that there would be no interruption to usual business.
“We’re, I believe as a county, very ahead of this as far as planning,” Davis said.
Davis stated the meeting held last week with EMA and local officials advised on the coronavirus nationally, and what to expect should it expand locally.
“That’s exactly what’s happened in one week’s time,” said Davis. “SSU had a representative there at the meeting, and these issues were discussed. How exactly would they handle this? It sounds like to me they are pretty much following protocol. Nobody needs to be alarmed. People are wondering what we do. Wash your hands. It’s no different from the common flu as far as exposure and how you get it. Keep your hands clean, stay away from large crowds, and if someone around you is sick… don’t get near them,” Davis said followed by a laugh.
Just last week however, commissioners highlighted the differences between coronavirus and the flu stating that COVID-19 is much more likely to spread and may lead to a medical equipment shortage if ill prepared.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say flu kills a lot more people, and it does. There’s no doubt about it, that’s our No. 1 right now,” Davis said March 3. “But the problem with coronavirus is that it’s so contagious, and the number of people that require ventilator help with it can become a problem if we get overwhelmed.”
The Daily Times sat down with Molly Davis, an Epidemiologist with the Portsmouth City Health Department Tuesday afternoon to discuss the coronavirus and the potential cases at SSU.
When asked where the suspected individuals traveled, Davis stated the department was unable to discuss where the individuals traveled to, or came back from and could only say that there were three suspected cases which meet the criteria for testing because of a travel history, and because they have symptoms consistent with coronavirus. Davis stated that one of the individuals was tested for everything that could already be ruled out, which is why their sample was sent out for coronavirus testing.
“As far as quarantine goes, people are in Scioto County. If they are outside the county, the local health department where they are is contacted and they are responsible for that quarantine,” said Davis.
Davis stated that locally the quarantine consists of asking the affected individuals to self-quarantine in their home, meaning they are not to leave their home for as long as they are asked by the city health department.
“Right now, it’s just until test results come back,” said Davis.
Davis was asked if any of individuals suspected to have coronavirus or have potentially came into contact with a suspected individual resided on campus, to which she stated she was unable to answer at this time.
“Everybody that we were able to track down, and we were given a complete list of everyone that was in this group that we are looking at, has been excluded from classes and is in quarantine. That includes their close contacts as well. For us to shut down the university when we’ve already gone through these measures to quarantine and make sure that people are not in classes doesn’t really make sense,” said Davis.
When asked about SSU’s choice to maintain regular operation amid the health scare.
“The staying away from large crowds’ recommendation is generally for people that are sick, and that’s for everything. We are in the middle of flu season. If we shut down the entire university every time someone was sick, we wouldn’t have classes at all all flu season, and that’s months and months that flu season lasts. That general recommendation is for anyone that has a cold or flu, to avoid crowds to not get anyone else sick,” Davis said.
Davis stated that should the test come back positive for the coronavirus; the decision will be up to the university on whether they remain open.
“We leave the decision up to them as far as remaining open or canceling classes. As far as our recommendation no, they don’t have to shut down,” Davis said.
Davis stated that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations state that those who have been in close contact with suspected individuals, due to the virus spreading through droplet and close contact, have been advised to quarantine. However, anyone in contact with this second tier of individuals have not been contacted and the incubation period lasts up to 14 days, meaning the second tier could display symptoms roughly anytime within the next two weeks. According to Portsmouth City Health Department, close contact is defined as contact less than 6 feet apart.
Davis stated that the virus will not live on surfaces for lengthy periods of time and stated because of that there will be no list provided of places where infected individuals may have been in days before quarantine should the test come back positive.
According to Portsmouth City Health Department, there are no clear distinctions between symptoms of the flu and coronavirus.
“They mimic each other, and that is why we have to rule out the flu before we test for coronavirus,” Davis said.
Davis stated the virus is associated with symptoms of a general low-grade fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, and congestion but stated there are no gastrointestinal symptoms associated with COVID-19. Davis stated for a person to require testing for coronavirus, they would first need to test negative for all other possibilities.
Portsmouth City Health Department stated that anyone who believes they have symptoms of the coronavirus should contact the department directly and is strongly advised to not seek care from local hospitals and emergency rooms.
Davis stated that for a situation to take place where day to day activities were interrupted, there would have to be high numbers of the virus spreading locally.
“For us to start limiting group activity and large gathering we would have to have large community transmission. Many people in the county who have no travel history who are positive,” said Davis.
Reach: Ivy Potter (740) 353-3101 Extension 1932