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Coronavirus In Ohio: What Workplaces Will Do If There's An Outbreak

Short North in Columbus, Ohio.
Matt Evans
Short North in Columbus, Ohio.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday declared a state of emergency after Ohio officials identified the first three cases of COVID-19 in the state. If the coronavirus spreads throughout the state as it has in others, like Washington, that will likely mean quarantine and a major change in how work is done.

Ohio's government is already trying to prepare employees for the disease's likely outbreak. 

“We recently reminded state agencies and encouraged them to be prepared to implement alternative work scenarios, including telecommuting, in case we have a critical event,” says Bill Teets, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services.

Teets added that the governor has requested increased cleaning in state office buildings.

“Gov. DeWine instructed the Department of Administrative Services to increase housekeeping and janitorial services,” Teets said. “We’re doing that by increasing the number of times a day we clean our common areas, our door hardware, surfaces, all of that. We’ve also added hand sanitizing stations in high traffic areas.”

Robin Davis, director of media relations for the City of Columbus, said that when it comes to city employees, the nature of their work differs from the standard office job.

“Columbus is in a little bit of a different situation from some of the other employers because we have so many people who are front-line workers: Police, fire, refuse collection," Davis said. "Those are jobs that can’t be done remotely."

Davis said the city is working on identifying non-essential employees and ensuring they have the capability to work from home. She also said the city is considering whether it needs to implement a practice scenario to ensure their systems work should a telecommuting arrangement be put in place.

So far, cases of COVID-19 have only been identified in Cuyahoga County, but health officials say it's only a matter of time before the disease spreads throughout the state.

Katy Delaney, director of media relations at Battelle, said that her company is encouraging telecommuting, reduced business travel, increased housekeeping and public health campaigns. She said Battelle is trying to be very transparent in addressing employee concerns about the virus.  

“We are communicating every day with our employees about this,” Delaney said. “In fact, we had a big panel discussion last week with our doctor on staff and our human resources person and other experts to field questions from staff members.”

The Ohio State University did not directly respond to questions about the possibility of flexible work arrangements for faculty and staff, but recently launched a websitewith info and updates on the coronavirus. The school has already issued travel restrictions for China, Italy, Iran and South Korea.

Through a statement, a public relations representative from Nationwide Insurance said that though the coronavirus has not impacted the company’s operations to date, they are actively monitoring the situation. Nationwide said it doesn't currently anticipate closures due to COVID-19, but the company’s leaders refine the organization’s continuity plans on an ongoing basis.

The CDC reportsthat 19 people have died from COVID-19 so far in the United States.

The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands. 
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. 
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.

Ohio's coronavirus call center is open to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The hotline number is 1-833-4-ASK-ODH or 1-833-427-5634.