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Health officials warn Ohio can't return to normal anytime soon as May 1 approaches: 'We are not through this'

'Life is not ready to go back to normal as we know it.'

CLEVELAND — May 1. It's the target date set by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to start the multi-step process of reopening the state and its economy.

As May 1 gets closer, health officials are hoping Ohioans understand this date does not mean life will suddenly go back to normal. They are warning that this process needs to be done slowly and with precautions.

RELATED: Gov. Mike DeWine offers new insight into May 1 reopening plan

Here's what Cuyahoga County health officials had to say during their coronavirus press conference Tuesday morning:

Cuyahoga County Board of Health Commissioner Terry Allan's comments:

We know that the governor has recognized that there will be a gradual return to normalcy starting on May 1, and not a full-scale launch back to life as we know it. ... We're going to work closely with a variety of local folks, state folks, to talk about the proper protections for customers, employees and citizens as we do so. What we expect, and many models talk about, is that we may face in the coming months a range of clusters that may still emerge. We have to be prepared to identify, respond to and suppress clusters of illness going forward. The key is that those clusters are suppressed so that they don't begin to move out into the general community where we then could see a re-ignition of cases. We have successfully really plateaued at this point on our cases, and we want to stay that way. The curve has been flattened, and Ohio has been successful in doing that and preventing much greater levels of cases and fatalities. We still have a lot of work to do so that we don't reignite cases in our community. We need to remain vigilant, and we intend to do so, and we appreciate the governor's leadership in doing that even as we have this gradual reopening. ...

As we move toward May 1, don’t expect that we’re going to flip a switch and we’re going to begin returning to life in the way it used to be. We can’t do that yet. We have to continue to ask more from all of us to be protected to assure that we are not reigniting this pandemic here in terms of new cases and potential fatalities. We need to continue to be vigilant. We can’t take our foot off the gas. ...

We’re encouraged by where we sit now in Ohio and that we are seeing a plateau, but we don’t want to develop a false sense of security that we can move on and presume that we can go back to normal life. We are not there. We are far from that. I think that’s the overarching message, which means that we need to be very careful about every decision we make as we bring normal aspects of life back and how to do that in a protective way.

Cuyahoga County Board of Health Medical Director Dr. Heidi Gullett: 

We are not intending in any way to step on anyone’s individual liberty, but we’re trying to provide the best data-drive, or evidence-driven, guidance on how we can get through this infection in our community as quickly as possibly, but as safely as possibly. … We are not through this. Life is not ready to go back to normal as we know it. We’re working closely with our state leaders about how we can pull things back in a way that’s safe. We recognize that this has a tremendous impact on the economy. Here at the Board of Health, we always talk about how a healthy economy is essential for a healthy community. We understand economy and jobs are critically tied to health, so we want to try to present you with the information to balance our return to life as we previously knew it in a way, and time frame, that’s safe. … 

Dr. Acton has said this is more like a dimmer switch than an on-and-off switch. I think that’s probably a pretty good metaphor for understanding how things need to roll back into what we knew before. We certainly can’t flip a switch. That will certainly lead to more infections and more deaths. We’ve got to carefully use evidence and data on the local and state level to understand how to move through this return.

We have continued transmission happening, and we have continued deaths. This is precisely why we cannot flip a switch on May 1 and go back to life as we knew it. There will be more deaths if we do not heed the advice of our leaders at the local and state level. To understand that transmission is here, there’s a lot of infection here, and we know that some people are very sick with this infection. Ultimately, despite the best medical care, [some people] do not survive this infection. We had a little bit of a surge of that in the last week.

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You can watch a replay of the county's press conference in the player below:

RELATED: Is May 1 too early to start reopening Ohio? Here's what health experts in Cuyahoga County are saying

Meanwhile, Gov. DeWine offered some new insight into his May 1 plan earlier this week, saying his strategy to reopen Ohio is "very consistent" with three-phase guidelines from President Trump.

He's also ordered that all K-12 schools throughout the state will remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

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