Lessons from Hong Kong: A former Ohio resident explains how DeWine’s response can help curb COVID-19

On Wednesday, March 12th, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that all K–12 schools in the state would close starting at the end of the school day on Monday, March 16th.

Since that initial announcement, there has been a wave of additional closings and cancellations throughout the state, with universities being the first to close, and individual school districts, companies, and organizations shutting down and postponing events. On Sunday, March 15th, Gov. DeWine shared the Ohio Department of Health’s order to close all restaurants and bars at 9 p.m. While dining rooms are shuttered over the next few weeks, carryout and delivery will still be available.

And the latest announcement is that today's primaries are postponed. Stay informed through the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

What does this mean for Cincinnati?

We already know that the global economy is suffering. As widespread quarantining, self-isolation, and social distancing continue, local businesses are feeling the effects immediately.

And while some people think this is extreme and inconvenient, others say it’s the only choice.

“The U.S. seems to be doing a terrible job of the fundamental measures thus far,” says William Marshall, a lawyer and partner at Deloitte who is currently based in Hong Kong. “Testing has to be widely available and readily accessible. You can’t take precautions against things you don’t know exist. So testing is key.”

“There’s so much for people in the U.S. to learn from Asian countries that have been dealing with this and SARS about 17 years before,” he continues. “In most places in Asia, if you’ve been exposed to people with the virus, you need to self-quarantine for 14 days and people are actually following this.”

Marshall, who lived in Columbus before relocating to Hong Kong about a decade ago, initially sent his wife and daughter to the states after the first cases of coronavirus surfaced overseas. Now, he’s bringing them back because he thinks it’s safer.

“We’ve done a better job of managing the spread and have a health infrastructure better equipped to manage this with the experience of months of COVID-19 and SARS previously,” he says.

As lawyers, he says that his coworkers are doing webinars instead of client seminars, conference calls instead of meetings, and no traveling. The company uses WhatsApp to keep in touch with teams and emails for client work.

Restaurant business — while still suffering — has picked up, he says, because even establishments that don’t normally promote delivery are using apps as well.

Don’t panic — stay safe

As of Monday, March 16th, there are 50 confirmed cases in Ohio and none in Hamilton County, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Social distancing — staying a minimum of six feet away from other people — is a well-known way to prevent the spread of coronavirus, along with good hygiene, diet, and sleep. Governor DeWine’s announced closings will likely flatten the curve, but precautions are still necessary.

In China, according to Marshall, wearing masks is mandatory if you go to the office or other public spaces. Hand sanitizer is heavily used and available in these locations.

“People are just aware,” he says. “We still have new infections almost daily, unfortunately, but many, many fewer than expected and that is down to the social distancing and hygiene … I think people in the U.S. are just not comfortable with this and feel it seems crazy, but it really does work.”

Across Cincinnati, neighbors have offered to pick up groceries for people self-isolating or those who can’t leave home for a variety of reasons; out-of-work teachers have resources for free tutoring and remote learning; residents are supporting local businesses by buying goods and gift cards online; medical professionals are ramping up their virtual services; and gyms have links to free classes.

On Thursday, March 13th, Jorge Perez, CEO and president of the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, announced that some branches will transition into a Hospital Personnel Kids Camp.

“Because of the evolving rules governing the coronavirus pandemic, the impact of school closures, and the growing demand on medical professionals, we are transitioning many of our Y centers to support doctors, nurses, technicians, and medical staff with caring for their children during this crisis,” Perez says in an email. “They will not have to worry that their child is in a safe place, as they care for a growing number of our loved ones during this difficult time.”

All Y fitness centers closed last night, March 16th, at 9 p.m. Those who want to continue working out from home can check out the Y’s resources here and follow them on Facebook for a soon-to-be launch of live, real-time classes. If you’re an out-of-work instructor, Caitlin Gagnon, social media analyst and active older adults director, wants you to assist with on-demand classes for people of all ages.

Other area workout studios, like Hello Sunshine Yoga and Shine Yoga Virtual Studio Portal are doing the same. By keeping memberships or signing up for new ones, you can support local businesses while staying in shape.

Integrative Family Care (IFC) is continuing their Walk with a Doc: East Walnut Hills program this Thursday, March 19th. According to Dr. Amy Mechley, who will be leading the walk, they will be practicing social distancing while discussing back health and searching for signs of spring in Eden Park.

And, as of yesterday, ESD Pediatric Group, which has locations in both Hyde Park and Milford, has started doing telemedicine appointments (something the doctors at IFC have always done) to help reduce the spread and exposure to illness.

“Overall health and safety of our patients, families, and staff are the top priority at ESD Pediatric Group,” the practice says in an email. “As medical professionals we are in contact with the Ohio Department of Health, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, the CDC, and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics). Our physicians have met and have formulated contingency plans to do our best to help our patients. These plans are fluid and in alignment with health department recommendations.”

Bottom line?

Check in regularly — virtually — with your friends, schools, public facilities, child care providers, coworkers, and doctors.

Unless you’ve traveled recently, been exposed to someone with the virus, or are feeling sick, social distancing doesn’t have to mean total isolation. Restaurants and businesses are consistently updating their hours and services on their websites and Facebook pages. Meal delivery apps are still an option, and many — like Findlay Market — have expanded services.

According to their Facebook page: “We are expanding the Findlay Market shopping app services to four days per week, Tuesday–Friday, with extended evening hours, pick up, and free delivery options. As a friendly reminder, the Findlay Market shopping app gives you the opportunity to get your favorite Findlay Market foods, as well as everyday essentials from traditional grocery stores.”

Other residents are buying gift cards online to be used at a later date.

“As far as working or business,” says Marshall, “it’s a challenge for everyone. Travel, hospitality, food, and beverage are all being devastated in Hong Kong.”

“[But] as China comes closer to normal output, the rest of the world has dropped their demands to close to zero,” he continues, “so [I think] the economy will continue to suffer globally for the rest of the year.”

Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.