Athens Health Commissioner Emphasizes Social Distancing, Hand-Washing to Stay Healthy

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Athens County’s top health official says avoiding major public events and washing your hands properly are two important ways to prevent getting sick from flu or the novel coronavirus.

Dr. James Gaskell, Health Commissioner at the Athens City-County Health Department, said he and his staff are paying close attention to the updates from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and state officials.

“Social distancing is one of the important things we can do now,” Gaskell said. “In other words, closing schools, closing major institutions of education like Ohio University and Ohio State University.”

On Tuesday, DeWine recommended all colleges and universities suspend in-person instruction. Ohio University has advised students to stay home instead of coming back after spring break, and classes will be online only until at least March 30. Other local colleges have also altered their instruction plans.

Athens City Schools has also suspended instruction for two weeks, with students returning no earlier than March 30.

“I believe that if we practice social isolation and avoiding each other, that we can prevent a lot of disease and keep our disease level down and relatively low,” Gaskell said.

Gaskell said proper handwashing is also crucial.

“Wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands,” he said. “But, wash our hands properly for 20 seconds. Sing happy birthday twice, that’s about 20 seconds. That gets rid of the organism so you don’t have it on your hands.

“The way you get it is, either you’re around somebody and they sneeze or cough, and the droplets fly, and they arrive on some surface and you touch them or you have to be in close vicinity” he continued. “If you’re within six feet of somebody, if you’re close enough, then when they cough you can get a droplet, and the next thing you know, you can get infected. But you can get it on your hands, and your hands go to your eyes and your nose all the time, we don’t even think about it. We just do it. And then you get the disease.”

Gaskell said there are no discussions at this point about the city or county being under quarantine.

“We’ve had outbreaks of diseases in the past, very infectious diseases,” he said. “They end. We have many plans in place to help to prevent disease.”