Both Ohio and West Virginia adopted strict social distancing measures and Stay at Home orders last month in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and ‘flatten the curve.’ From closures of non-essential businesses to restrictions on travel, both states are encouraging citizens to stay home and self-quarantine as much as possible. So, is social distancing working? Leaders in Ohio and West Virginia say yes, but agree that we aren’t out of the woods yet.
On Monday, April 6, Dr. Amy Acton, Director of the Ohio Department of Health, said during the Governor’s daily press conference that social distancing was indeed making an impact in the state of Ohio.
“People at home, you are moving mountains. You are saving lives,” she said to those watching from home. “This is no small thing that we are doing together. It is so incredibly hard to have shut down our lives the way we have. I am absolutely certain that you will look back and know that you helped save each other in this state.”
Governor Jim Justice shared a similar sentiment during his address on Tuesday, April 7. “Our power is our ability to cripple this disease by staying away from one another,” he said, noting that West Virginia is the highest risk state in the nation and in near proximity to 2/3 of the nation’s population. “We could be contaminated so easily, so please, stay the course and keep doing what you’re doing, West Virginia,” said Justice, “I couldn’t be more proud of you.”
We still are experiencing shortages of testing and shortages of PPE, so the actions you are taking to keep the pressure off of our healthcare system are vital.Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio Department of Health
According to a study published in the New York Times last week that analyzed anonymous cellphone location data, stay at home orders appear to have nearly halted travel for most Americans. The divide in travel patterns suggests that those in the West, Northeast, and Midwest have generally complied with orders from state and local officials to stay home.
In Ohio, compared to a baseline from January, mobility for retail and recreation has decreased 43% and mobility related to employment has decreased 35%, according to the COVID-19 Community Mobility Report. Across the river, West Virginia saw similar trends, with a 38% decrease in retail and recreation mobility and a 33% decrease in workplace mobility. These Community Mobility Reports provide insight into how behavior patterns have changed in response to social distancing policies.
“These weeks that you have created have given our healthcare system and our hospitals time to structure and be ready,” said Dr. Acton during Wednesday’s press conference. “We still are experiencing shortages of testing and shortages of PPE, so the actions you are taking to keep the pressure off of our healthcare system are vital because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to provide that care for emergencies like our heart attacks and strokes and car accidents and births. The work you have been doing by staying home is saving lives.”
Although it took about two weeks to see the effects of strict social distancing, Dr. Acton points to the flattened curve as evidence of a positive impact. “If we had done nothing, we would have predicted 62,000 cases per day at the peak and we would have peaked long ago. In Ohio, we were predicting an initial peak projection of 9,800 cases per day,” said Dr. Acton. “Our latest projection is 1,600 cases per day.”
Sherry Ellem, Creating Healthy Communities Program Manager for the Washington County Health Department, stressed the importance of maintaining social distancing. “We, as a community, need to understand that the virus is spread person to person, so the more people we come in contact with the more apt it is to spread.”
“We cannot emphasize enough that our personal healthy habits are what helps prevent the spread of the virus,” said Ellem, including staying home, except when providing an essential service. She encouraged caution when checking on a family member or loved one. “Try to minimize interaction. Drop off supplies, food, and medication on their doorstep rather than entering their home. Reduce your daily contacts – if you do not live with a person, we caution you visiting with them.”
Social distancing requires maintaining six feet of space between yourself and others in public spaces. “You should avoid close contact with people who are sick and isolate when you are sick except to get medical care. Even then, you should call before you go seek medical attention.”
Science and history confirm that it is social distancing that makes the biggest difference.Sherry Ellem, Washington County Health Department
More simple things you can do include avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and frequently cleaning and disinfecting touched items.
With the CDC’s recommendation that Americans wear cloth face masks in public to help slow the spread of the virus, Ellem is concerned that people will find safety behind the masks and take chances to meet with friends or family for the Easter holiday and wane their social distancing. “Science and history confirm that it is social distancing that makes the biggest difference.”
Dr. Acton also ended her address Wednesday afternoon by thanking those watching for staying home and urged everyone to continue their efforts. “The fear I have when we have silent victories is that people will start to say that COVID-19 was never there to begin with or that there was never a threat,” she said. “Please know that this battle is still ongoing. We are blessed that we had early mitigation, but we need to stay there. There is no way out of this without what we’re doing together. Please continue to stay home.”