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ASHLAND -- Surrounded by Ashland County leadership and healthcare professionals, the City of Ashland's Mayor Matt Miller shared news of Ashland County's first positive case of COVID-19 at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. 

The nearly hour-long message following Miller's announcement was one calling for the community to unite -- not in person, but instead in action -- as the Ashland County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) leads the County's transition from a mitigation to a response phase.

"Those of you who have listened and are doing the right thing, you are the reason we are where we are today, in a very safe position," said EMA director Mark Rafeld. "We've got this... Yes, we have some gaps, but we're working to fill those very well."

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He urged Ashland residents to continue social distancing, self-quarantines and self-isolation as recommended

Rafeld's office has been in regular communication with many of those who attended Wednesday's press conference, including the County Commissioners, Loudonville's Mayor Steve Stricklen, Ashland County Health Department's coordinator Jill Hartson and University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center's president Todd Harford.

At this point, the EMA will be working even closer with local hospitals to respond to those in need of care for either COVID-19 or other ailments and to provide testing for those in need.  

As of tomorrow, UH Samaritan Medical Center is canceling all non-essential surgeries and procedures to minimize any risk of COVID-19 exposure to its staff, providers and the community and to preserve and manage its supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

"Our providers value the physician-patient relationship and will work together with the patient to make the best decisions on a case-by-case basis," Senior Communications Strategist Noah Gangi said in a press release issued Wednesday. "We are currently working with our providers to ensure notifications to our patients are being made. Every patient is important to us, and we are committed to ensuring their specific care requirements are met in the most compassionate and safest way possible." 

Additionally, visiting hours remain restricted. For most patients, only one visitor is allowed once per day per stay. This visitor must check in at the main and emergency room entrances and be screened for travel history, COVID-19 symptoms and potential exposure. Further, all visitors may be subject to temperature assessment. 

Two visitors per day may be allowed for birthing and women's care patients. 

"We have very dedicated health care professionals who are working very hard," Harford said. "Every one of their jobs has changed in some way since the coronavirus, and I want to thank them personally for all their hard work and the hours they're putting in so we're meeting the needs of our community."

A limited number of test kits are available at UH Samaritan and will be used at the discretion of healthcare providers. The tests are sent to Cleveland for results. 

Anyone who is showing symptoms of COVID-19 is asked to call ahead before visiting UH Samaritan Medical Center or any healthcare facility, which allows the medical professionals to best prepare for the patients care and to protect themselves.

The individual to first test positive for COVID-19 in Ashland County has followed all the recommendations of state and local health professionals, said Hartson of Ashland County's Health Department. 

The affected individual had returned from traveling abroad and upon their return, the person was instructed to self-isolate for two weeks. When developing symptoms of COVID-19 during that time, the individual called ahead before visiting a medical facility, 

"This situation is the perfect example of how surveillance and monitoring prevents the spread of infection and saves lives," said Ashland County Health Department's Coordinator Jill Hartson. 

The individual remains in quarantine. To protect the individual's identity, the health department has determined it will share no additional details about this individual's demographics or their travel history. 

"We were anticipating COVID-19 cases in Ashland. We are anticipating having more. We have prepared for this," Hartson said. 

First Ashland County resident tests positive for COVID-19

She encouraged the community to avoid panicking. Instead, she wants them to be aware and to follow guidance on social distancing, self-isolation and self-quarantining.

Students who are home from school should stay home and avoid re-congregating. 

the curve

Jill Hartson holds up a diagram showing how social distancing and self-quarantines can help reduce the burden on the health care system. (File Photo: March 2020)

"You've probably heard the term 'flattening the curve' often. What we want to do when we're dealing with a pandemic is to make sure we're protecting our at risk individuals and our health care infrastructure," Hartson said. "Why we're implementing all the governor's orders and orders ourselves in Ashland are to protect these two very valuable resources." 

She was referencing the same diagram that healthcare professionals worldwide, including Director of Ohio Department of Health Dr. Amy Acton, have pointed to in their own demonstrations. These professionals say without taking protective measures, the number of coronavirus cases could spike sharply and overwhelm the healthcare system.

Hartson recommended Ashland County residents stay informed by visiting coronavirus.ohio.gov and cdc.gov. Also, she asks those with COVID-19 concerns to consider first contacting the statewide call center at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH, as to help avoid a mass number of calls to local healthcare facilities. 

Ashland County, Ashland City and Loudonville Village services are continuing -- possibly in a revised manner -- for now. Their respective websites and social media pages should be consulted for the most updated information. 

Ashland County Commissioner Mike Welch suggested calling or visiting its website prior to coming in person, as services may be able to be offered remotely.

The Ashland City Transit will continue to operate for those who are in need of transportation.

"We've been planning for this type of event forever, not this particulatar event, but very similar events, and all of us involved in emergency management plan for (this)," Rafeld said. "We make up scenarios, and unfortunately today many of those scenarios are coming true. But we've planned for this." 

He anticipates transportation, health care and other issues to surface in the coming days and weeks. The EMA will respond accordingly, he said. 

Resources for families stuck at home during social distancing