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Ohio Coronavirus Update: New guidance released for colleges and universities

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine provides new information on the state's response to COVID-19.

COLUMBUS, Ohio —

Gov. Mike DeWine addressed Ohioans on Thursday with new information on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

He touched on new guidance for colleges and universities and provided an update on the state's new Public Health Advisory Alert System.

Here's a look at what was discussed this week.

Colleges and Universities

DeWine said that there are 167 institutions of higher learning in the state.

These educational facilities drive Ohio's economy, he said, and are preparing to go back to campus in the fall.t

DeWine released guidance on Thursday of minimum operating standards and best practices for higher education to safely return.

Testing will be an integral part of their strategies to stop the spread of COVID-19, DeWine said. Each school must come up with a plan that best works with the needs of their particular campus and community. 

DeWine called for isolation of those students, faculty and staff members showing symptoms and for those individuals to have priority testing.

Each university should set aside a living space for those who stay on campus to go to should they become symptomatic.

DeWine acknowledged that these things cost money. To help address increasing costs, he and other representatives have requested the controlling board approve their initial request of $200 million for higher education and $100 million for K-12 education through the federal CARES Act. 

This funding is meant to be flexible. Schools may need more testing capabilities or a nurse to help assess symptoms, funds could be used for these purposes and many others in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.

TUESDAY

Mask Mandate in Seven Counties

Those in the seven counties in the "red" counties per the new Public Health Alert System will be required to wear a mask in public, mostly in indoor settings.

RELATED: Gov. DeWine unveils new color-coded alert system to identify high-risk counties for coronavirus

The seven counties currently impacted are:

  • Huron
  • Cuyahoga
  • Franklin
  • Butler
  • Hamilton
  • Montgomery 
  • Trumbull

The order goes into effect at 6 p.m. Wednesday and will last until the counties are moved into a lower level of orange or yellow.

The instances in which those counties will have to wear a mask are as follows:

  • In any indoor location that is not a residence
  • When they are outdoors and unable to consistently maintain six feet of distance from anyone who is not a member of their household
  • While they are waiting for or riding/driving in public transportation, car service, private care service, tax service or ride sharing vehicle.

The order does not apply to children under the age of 10 or anyone who is unable to safely wear a face covering.

DeWine said that the order also reflects the mask guidance that has existed for employees and businesses under their health and safety guidelines, which does not require a person to wear a mask if their physician advises against it, if wearing a mask is prohibited by federal regulation, if communicating with the hearing impaired, when alone in your office or personal workspace and other similar measures. 

Schools that offer Kindergarten through grade 12 instruction should follow the guidelines set forth last week by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Health, DeWine said.

Enforcement

DeWine said that the penalty for those not in compliance would be the same as with any other order and violating the mask mandate in these counties would be considered a misdemeanor. However, he made clear the goal isn't to get people in trouble.

"We're not looking to see people... a lot of people arrested that's not the idea at all," DeWine said. "The idea is that this is the norm. This is what is needed for Ohioans to stay safe. And if we are not able to successfully do this and carry this out, we're going to see this virus take command again and that's not a situation that we would want."

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said it is not up to the business, but up to the municipalities to enforce these rules, making clear he doesn't expect a grocery store clerk or others to physically have to impose the order. Businesses should remind patrons that a mask is required, but in an extreme situation, they should turn that over to the local community for enforcement.

County Alert Levels

Last week, DeWine announced the new Public Health Alert System to help Ohioans determine how fast the spread is occurring in Ohio's counties. 

While no counties are currently at the highest alert level, purple, Franklin County, which is home to the state capital is on the "watch list," DeWine said.

DeWine said that the virus is spreading in the red counties at large family gatherings, funerals, in the workplace, tourist destinations and even in churches.

DeWine said the biggest threat from an economic point of view is for the virus to continue to worsen, as people will be afraid to go out.

He said he hopes the mask mandate has a big impact.

"The earlier that we do things, the more impact we have," DeWine said. "So, there's a real opportunity in these other counties to avoid getting to the red level."

When asked if more action would be taken should the current red counties not improve, even under the new mask order, DeWine said they would cross that bridge when they get to it.

Key Indicators

There have been 948 new cases in the last 24 hours, which is down a little bit, but still above the 21-day average. 

Hospitalizations, he said, are significantly up from the last 24 hours as well as ICU admissions. 

DeWine made note that the average age of those being diagnosed with COVID-19 continues to drop, a dramatic change, he said, from earlier in the pandemic.

While younger Ohioans are at a relatively lower risk for developing severe complications, the concern is that the virus will be spread from them to those at higher risk.

Sports

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said Tuesday that as part of a temporary order issued by the Ohio Dept. of Health, contact and non-contact competition will be able to resume for all sports if teams agree to all of the guidelines in the order, including things such as: 

  • Testing of all players, coaches, athletic trainers, support staff, and officials before travel and competition.
  • Daily symptom assessments.
  • Athletic trainers must wear a face covering while attending to a player.
  • Coaches and officials are strongly recommended to wear a face covering, when possible
  • Strict social distancing by players who are not actively engaged in practice or competition.
  •  Immediate isolation and medical care for a participant who develops symptoms.

This temporary order will expire on July 15. 

"I Want A Season" Campaign

On Tuesday, the state launched a new campaign called "I Want A Season," encouraging Ohio athletes to use social media to show to others that they are wearing a mask and practicing social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus so they can finally have a season.

TPD Officer Anthony Dia

DeWine made note of the recent death of Toledo Police Officer Anthony Dia who was shot in the early morning hours of July 4.

He ordered that the flags at the statehouse and in Lucas County be lowered until after the funeral and offered his condolences to the family.


LAST WEEK

School Guidelines

DeWine said he has had talks with teachers, superintendents, school officials and medical personnel to put together a plan for schools to get back in the classroom while staying as safe as possible.

The consensus, he said, is that students need to get back into the physical classroom, as some students have struggled to receive the same quality education while learning remotely.

The guidelines put forth by the state give school leaders flexibility to do what's best for their students.

Because school buildings are indoor settings where people are inside together for long periods of time, it is a place where the virus can easily spread.

Specific guidelines will be made available on coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Here is an overview of what will be expected from schools come the fall:

  • Vigilantly assess symptoms - Staff and volunteers should conduct daily health checks prior to going to school, including temperature checks and assessing symptoms. Anyone with a temperature of more than 100 degrees or who exhibits symptoms must stay home. If there is a higher risk of COVID-19 in a community, schools can scale up this guidance. For example, school leaders can take temperatures of students and staff prior to entering the building. School administrators must send home students or staff if they develop symptoms or a temperatures at school and refer them to an appropriate health care provider or testing site. They must contact the health department if there is a case of coronavirus at the school. Schools must work with local health departments to create a comprehensive testing strategy.
  • Wash and sanitize hands to prevent spread - Schools must provide ample opportunity for students and staff to wash their hands throughout the day. To supplement this, schools should provide hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas such as entrances to the buildings and classrooms, requiring its use.
  • Thoroughly clean and sanitize school environment to limit spread on shared surfaces - COVID-19 can spread by touching a surface and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Using disinfectants reduces the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Practice social distancing - Social distancing of at least six feet can reduce the spread of infectious diseases. Schools should strive to keep six feet of distance between students, staff and volunteers in all school environments, including classrooms, bathrooms, at pick-up, on school buses, etc. 
  • Implement face coverings policy - All school employees must wear face masks unless it is "unsafe" for them to do so, and it is recommended all students in third grade and above wear masks as well; districts must put forth a face mask policy.

Public Health Advisory Alert System

As many of the previous orders are set to expire, DeWine said Thursday that vital and necessary baseline orders will continue on to help combat the recent spike of cases in the state. Those baseline orders include things like social distancing, guidelines for businesses, etc. 

Additionally, a new warning system, called the "Public Health Advisory Alert System," has been implemented to provide community leaders, state leaders and health departments data and information that will allow them to layer additional enhanced safety measures to combat flareups as they pop up across the state.

The new color-coded system is built on data-driven framework to assess the degree of the virus's spread. The hope is to inform, engage and empower individuals, businesses, communities in the appropriate response and action.

The system is made up of four levels, providing Ohioans insight into the severity of the problem in the counties in which they live, determined by seven data indicators:

  • New cases per capita - When the data shows that a county has had an average of 50 cases per 100,000 people in a two-week period, that will trigger a flag for increasing case rate. This specific threshold was chosen because this is the point at which the CDC defines a populations case rate as going from "moderate" to "moderately high."
  • Sustained increase in new cases - If the number of new cases continually increases for a series of days, this indicates virus spread. A county will be flagged for this indicator if it has a five-day period of sustained new case growth.
  • Proportion of cases not congregate cases - The risk of spread in congregate living facilities is very high, however, DeWine the risk of spread from these facilities to outside communities is relatively low. This is why leaders are giving more weight to non-congregate cases when looking at community spread. When leaders see a high number of cases from those living in the broader community, that is a big concern, DeWine said. When 50% of new cases in a three-week period are from outside congregate care facilities, this will trigger a flag under this new system.
  • Sustained increase in emergency room visits - Emergency room data will show the trend in the number of people who visit the E.R. with COVID-19 symptoms or a confirmed coronavirus cases. A county will be flagged when there is an increase of ER visits over a five-day period. 
  • Sustained increase in outpatient visits - This looks at the number of people visiting outpatient facilities, including telehealth with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 systems. This lets us know how many people are sick enough to go to the doctor's office. This can be an early warning indicator for future hospitalizations. A county is flagged if there is an increase over a five-day period.
  • Sustained increase in new COVID-19 hospital admissions - This data point shows the burden of COVID-19 in the community. When the numbers show at least a five-day period of sustained growth in the number of county residents with COVID-19 who are sick enough to be admitted to the hospital. DeWine made clear, this indicator looks at the county of residence, and not the county of the hospital in which that patient is being treated.
  • ICU bed occupancy - This indicator looks at regional data of coronavirus and non-coronavirus use of ICU beds. This gives us an idea of how full our hospitals are. A county is flagged if the regional occupancy goes above 80% on at least three of the last seven days. 
  • Additional measurements - Three more indicators will be added to the list as more data becomes available. Those data points are: contact tracing, tests per capita and percent positivity.

ALERT LEVELS

Alert levels will be updated weekly on Wednesdays and announced during DeWine's Thursday conferences. Here is a look at what each level means: 

  • Level 1 - The color for Level 1 will be yellow. This will be activated when 0-1 of the seven indicators have been flagged. There are currently 53 counties at Level 1. The majority of these counties are seeing a moderate number of cases. Some are seeing a steady increase in cases each day, but not necessarily a rapid spread. DeWine cautioned not to be lulled into a false sense of security, as experts believe all counties have community spread.
  • Level 2 - The color for Level 2 will be orange. This is issued when a county flags two or three of the seven indicators. There are currently 28 counties under a Level 2, including Lucas County. These counties are seeing cases growing in the communities over the last two weeks. Residents should exercise a high degree of caution by decreasing contact with people in high-risk and limiting in-person interactions and seeking medical care when necessary. 
  • Level 3 - The color for Level 3 will be red. This level triggers four or five of the indicators and there is a very high level of exposure or spread. There are currently seven counties at Level 3. Ohioans should limit activities when possible, consider online options and wear a mask as many cases of community spread are present. Residents of these counties should limit themselves to necessary travel only. COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU stays are trending up in some counties.
  • Level 4 - The color for Level 3 will be purple. This level triggers six or seven of the listed indicators. At this point, no Ohio counties are at Level 4.  Franklin County, however, is on the watch list, with the grave concern that it could soon move from red to purple. Ohioans should stay home as much as possible and only travel when necessary if their county were to reach this level of spread.

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