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A “significant number” of health care workers in Cuyahoga County have tested positive for COVID-19, Dr. Heidi Gullett told reporters at the March 25 press briefing.

The medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health did not have specific numbers.

“I know that we’ve had a significant number of health care providers and we have been working with all of our hospital partners affected by their employees who are positive,” she said. “We are actually addressing that in a very robust way.”

The state has 704 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the Ohio Department of Health reported March 25. ODH Director Dr. Amy Acton said there are 116 confirmed coronavirus cases involving health care workers across the state.

"Health care workers is an interesting one because we know they're higher risk but we're also testing them more because they are in that high-risk group," Acton said at an afternoon press conference with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine at the Ohio Statehouse. 

Gullett urged doctors and other health care professionals who work in outpatient settings to stay at home if possible.

“We’ve got to protect our health care workers,” she said.

Both she and Terry Allan, county health commissioner, called this a critical time for anyone who can to stay at home.

“This week is a pivotal week in Cuyahoga County and the state of Ohio,” Gullett said. “We have got to act now.”

She said the incidence of influenza A is receding right now.

“As influenza A infections go down, we still have a significant report of influenza-like infections. We call them ILI’s in the public health world. And as those rise, we need to presume that all of those cases are COVID-19 cases.”

She said she is seeing “a significant increase in cases in this community and we are seeing an increase in cases across the state which you heard Dr. Acton talk about.”

She said the increase of cases in cities of high density, particularly New York, has an impact on Northeast Ohio.

“We have travelers from New York City in our community, who have lab-confirmed links to New York,” she said. “It’s a high degree of interdependence in this community. We’re highly connected. And that’s why it’s so important we stay at home now.”

She called for vigilance and explained the county’s commitment to continuing tracking of cases and contacts.

“Many have asked, well this just seems like it’s spreading like wildfire, is it really worth it?” she said. “Yes, it is and we’re not going to stop. But we need your help. And every time you go out for nonessential business or you congregate close to someone within six feet unnecessarily, you increase the potential transmission of a new route of this infection.”

She opened her remarks with condolences both to the two people in Cuyahoga County and the six in Ohio who have died. The ODH reported later in the day that now 10 Ohioans have died from COVID-19.

“it’s very personal to us and we are absolutely determined to minimize loss of life from this infection,” she said.

Allan said that in spite of what he called generous donations of personal protective equipment, front-line workers are both rationing and sharing the use of equipment.

“They’re already extending the life of the personal protective equipment,” Allan said. “They’re rationing their personal protective equipment. They are sharing it among each other to make sure those who are in critical need receive it.”

He asked anyone who believes a business may be operating in violation of the state’s stay at home order and closure of all nonessential businesses to call 216-201-2000.

“We have to act now because lives of the people that we love, that we care about, our neighbors, our friends, our family members, are in the balance,” Allan said.

Digital Content Producer Alyssa Schmitt contributed to this report.

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