Coronavirus crisis grips the state, nation

Nicholas Cacioppo

Herald Staff Writer

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is unlike anything Ohioans have experienced in recent memory. Since March 9 when Ohio’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced, organizations and agencies have scrambled to prepare for the impending crisis. So far, Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration has declared a state of emergency, closed all schools–most likely for the remainder of the school year–; imposed strict visitor restrictions on nursing home and psychiatric care facilities, closed all bars and dine-in restaurants indefinitely, warned that childcare facilities would soon be closed, suggested essential medical supplies would be redistributed to frontline healthcare facilities, warned that nonessential surgeries could soon be halted and suggested additional drastic actions would be necessary in the immediate future. After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement March 15 recommending governments “halt gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks,” the governor closed additional businesses, including recreational centers and theaters, and postponed the primary election. 

What this means for Barberton and Norton residents is that virtually all public events have been canceled; local hospitals, nursing homes and healthcare facilities are inaccessible outside of emergencies; many businesses are closed or offering limited services; parents are stuck arranging care for their children; and many people have been laid off and are without income.

While confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state have remained in the double digits, as of this edition’s publication, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, along with officials from Summit County Public Health (SCPH), have continued to stress reported cases represent “the tip of the iceberg” and are dwarfed by the number of people actually infected. Health experts estimated March 12 that around 1% of Ohio’s population, over 100,000 people, were likely carrying COVID-19. Considering the virus is twice as contagious as the common flu, community spread of the virus is extensive and that the number of infected people is expected to double every six days, Acton predicted between 40 and 70% of Ohioans–between 4.5 and 8 million people–will have been infected with the virus by late April or early May. According to this trend, at the time of publication and distribution of this edition, nearly 200,000 Ohioans will likely be infected. 

Gov. DeWine and Dr. Acton acknowledged March 15 that Ohio hospitals and healthcare facilities would not be able to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients and warned that further restrictions on movement and gatherings will be essential to ensuring that healthcare services are not overwhelmed. Should the spread of the virus not be slowed, Ohio’s healthcare system risks losing its capacity to treat severe cases of COVID-19 as well as care for patients suffering from chronic illnesses, as has happened in Italy. 

About COVID-19

COVID-19 is a novel pandemic disease, meaning it has never been seen before and it is spread widely across the globe. Though some countries and medical institutions are working on antiviral drugs, no vaccine nor cure currently exists. Researchers estimate the average mortality rate for those infected is between 2 and 3%, though older patients and patients with underlying conditions are at a much higher risk of death. Symptoms for the virus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. According to the CDC, the majority of people who contract the virus, about 80%, will experience mild to no symptoms. In most cases, those people do not need medical attention and should not burden healthcare services by requesting tests or hospital admission. The other 20% of cases include severe and critical symptoms, like respiratory failure, that requires hospitalization and medical attention. Dr. Acton and other health officials say this disparity should not discourage younger and healthier Ohioans from obeying proper public health protocols as they, especially those who are asymptomatic, pose a risk to vulnerable populations.

When symptoms develop

Those who develop a fever, cough or experience shortness of breath should consult their healthcare provider or access free COVID-19 screening services through Summa Health Systems to see whether they are at risk of developing more severe symptoms. Summit County healthcare professionals recommend people who only experience mild symptoms should isolate themselves and treat their illness like the common cold or flu rather than seeking additional in-person healthcare services. For those who develop severe symptoms like difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion or bluish lips, the CDC recommends they call a healthcare provider and seek medical help immediately. As test kits for COVID-19 are in short supply, not all  who are experiencing symptoms or are believed to be infected are guaranteed to be tested. 

Helping others

While good hand hygiene and other sanitary practices are beneficial, public health experts agree that social distancing is Ohioans’ best weapon. In order to sustain healthcare services and protect those with compromised immune systems and other health conditions, residents must stay home. Limiting face-to-face contact or, if staying home is not a possibility, keeping at least 6 feet of space between one another is critical. 

SCPH asks residents not to hoard essential home supplies nor essential medical supplies because many in the community are in need and frontline healthcare providers are facing shortages of essential items.

Additionally, Lt. Gov. John Husted, Gov. DeWine and SCPH officials have stressed the importance of checking on neighbors, especially the elderly, and sharing resources with those in need. The Barberton Salvation Army, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and the United Way of Summit County are in great need of financial or food donations and volunteers as they work to alleviate hunger. 

Finding help and assistance

For those seeking food, medical, mental health and financial assistance, a number of resources are available around the community. During closures Barberton and Norton City Schools will be providing enrolled students ages 18 and younger with free breakfast and lunch meals most days of the week. Akron Public Schools will be providing free meals to all children ages 18 and younger. Visit the respective school district website to find times and locations for meal pickup.There are also numerous food pantries and hot meal sites around Norton and Barberton supplied by the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. For a complete list of area locations, times of operation and type of food service visit the Foodbank’s webpage or call them at 330-535-6900. The Barberton and Akron Salvation Army locations will be “serving daily hot meals and food pantry groceries” Monday through Friday. For those in need who would like to request groceries, call 330-376-8481 or 330-762-8481.  

Summit County Public Health Clinical Director Leanne Beavers suggested the uninsured may be able to seek some medical services from ASIA Inc., but as of the publication of this edition, the organization has not confirmed this. Summa Health System offers free online screenings of COVID-19 and e-visits for other health conditions. SummaCare, along with many of the largest insurance companies, will waive copays and fees for COVID-19 testing for members. Unless there is a medical emergency, health officials urge patients to either use online telemedicine services or stay home. Testing will not be available without prior notice and a referral.

Residents suffering from mental health and addiction issues can access tele-help services through the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction by calling Ohio’s coronavirus hotline at 833-427-5634. Talk it Out Counseling and Social Services in Barberton intends to remain open and available for in-person and tele-health sessions with clients and those dealing with anxiety related to the crisis. 

FirstEnergy Corporation and Dominion Energy suspended service shut-offs March 13 for nonpayment to alleviate the burden some customers face in light of business closures. Additionally, shutoffs for other utility services provided through Norton and Barberton Cities may be suspend during the crisis, like Akron has done. For those who can no longer go to work, either due to closures or because they are under quarantine, Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) has expanded unemployment benefits. ODJFS has also waived benefit waiting periods and some penalties for late reporting or payment by businesses. To apply for unemployment, call ODJFS at 877-644-6562 or, preferably, submit an online form through the agency’s website.

For more information on local services or to find additional support from organizations contact SCPH at 330-926-5795 or the United Way of Summit County at 330-376-6660 or visit their websites.