The Westerville Fire Division has been screening 911 calls for weeks and continues to take precautionary measures as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11.

Westerville Fire Chief Brian Miller said emergency calls are being screened, with dispatchers asking a series of questions to gauge if responders need to wear personal protective equipment.

He said the division has been monitoring the Central for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and directives from the Ohio Department of Public Health and other local agencies as conditions change.

"We've been through H1N1(influenza A virus) and Ebola (virus)," Miller said. "We're seeing some things that are unprecedented.

"We're seeing Otterbein University closed and recommending people not go to events, so there isn't that rush on the hospital systems, trying to slow it (the virus) down so there's enough medical care for those who contract it. It's a fluid event."

Miller said the first "community" exposure of the virus in Ohio, which state officials announced March 11, is "a game changer."

Community spread means a person has been infected and it isn't known how or where the person was exposed to the virus, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine reported a 53-year-old man from Stark County was the first community-spread case of the coronavirus.

The patient had no history of travel outside the United States, and he had no known contact with someone else with the disease, according to DeWine's announcement.

As updates are released, Miller said, the division is changing its approach.

"We're taking precautions in the firehouse, decontaminating EMS equipment, things of that nature," Miller said. "We're thinking about shutting down nonessential functions, things like tours of the firehouse, to try to limit exposure."

Miller said there are plans in place in case fire personnel become ill through community exposure.

"We're reviewing those now," he said.

Westerville's fire division serves approximately 48,000 residents in the city of Westerville and Blendon Township.

Canceled activities

Amid concerns about the coronavirus, the Westerville State of the Community, scheduled March 12 at Otterbein University, was postponed, and Otterbein suspended in-person classes effective March 10.

Erica Charles, Westerville's community-affairs specialist, said a new date and time for the State of the Community would be announced later.

In addition to the city, the event was scheduled to involve the Westerville City School District, Otterbein University, Westerville Public Library and the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce.

"We will continue to work closely with our public health officials and keep you informed as we learn of new information," said John Comerford, Otterbein's president, in a news release. "I am grateful for the collaboration, cooperation and support from this special community during this challenging time."

Comerford said all in-person classes on campus were being suspended, allowing the university to move to alternative delivery modes.

Most Otterbein public gatherings and events have been canceled and will remain so until further notice. Updates are available at otterbein.edu/covid19.

Westerville City Schools Superintendent John Kellogg said the district continues to monitor developments daily.

"Our crisis manual is updated regularly to reflect current best practices and includes a section on pandemics, as well as other medical emergencies, to help guide our response in the event the virus is discovered and impacts us locally," he said.

A website, coronavirus .ohio.gov, has been created to provide up-to-date information. ThisWeek Community News also has been covering the COVID-19 coronavirus. Go to ThisWeekNEWS.com/topics/coronavirus.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla