COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is set to address the state at 2 p.m. with new updates on the coronavirus pandemic.
DeWine previously said he would most likely be releasing the state's guidelines for schools to return back in the fall on Thursday.
For weeks, the governor told Ohioans that there wouldn't be too many surprises, providing flexibility for school leaders to create their own plan for the next school year that best fits their district's needs.
DeWine said that a key indicator of the virus' spread is the positivity rate.
If the spread of the virus remained at a low level, he said, more testing should show a lower positivity. Instead, the creeping up of the state's positivity rate, even as more testing is completed, indicates that Ohio is likely picking up signs of broader community spread.
Last week was the state's first week of increasing coronavirus hospital utilization after over two months of that number decreasing since late April.
DeWine said that the number of standard hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients peaked in late April/early May at about 1,000 and reached a low of 513 on June 20.
In the Dayton and Cincinnati areas, the recent increase in hospital utilization includes standard beds, as well as ICU beds and ventilators.
Although the utilization of hospitals for coronavirus patients is increasing, there is adequate overall capacity.
No region has reached the concern threshold of 80% overall utilization for ICU beds, DeWine said. But, he did make note of the recent history in New York City, Texas and Arizona, saying things can quickly change.
To make sure Ohio hospitals have enough space and ICU beds to treat everyone who needs care, DeWine called on all Ohioans, especially those in Hamilton, Montgomery, and surrounding counties, to redouble their efforts to social distance, wear a mask in public and wash their hands.
Hamilton and Montgomery Counties
DeWine focused a lot of Monday on the southwestern counties of Hamilton and Montgomery counties as cases continue to rise.
He said he discussed the situation in both of these areas with Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump and was assured the state would be receiving additional help to combat the spread in those communities.
At the end of May and into early June, Hamilton County was holding steady at an average of 30 cases per day per 100,000 population. As of this past week, the average new cases per day increased to approximately 100 cases per 100,000, DeWine said.
And due to the delayed diagnosis, these numbers may continue to grow. By reviewing other healthcare indicators, DeWine said it can be seen that this is not solely because of increased testing.
For example, more people are visiting their doctors more often and being diagnosed with COVID-19. In one week’s time in Hamilton County between June 15 and June 22, those numbers nearly doubled from 40 to 78 visits per day.
Additionally, Ohio is seeing an increase in additional utilization of other healthcare services.
In Hamilton County and the surrounding region, hospital utilization by COVID-19 positive patients reached their lowest levels of this epidemic during the first and second weeks of June.
But, the number of COVID-positive patients being treated in standard hospital beds, ICU beds, and on ventilators has steadily increased. In fact, in Hamilton County, the number of COVID-positive patients has doubled from the low of 65 on June 11 to more than 130 over the weekend.
In Montgomery County, there is a noticeable increase in cases over the last month from an average of about 10 cases a day at the end of May, to about 40 cases a day in the most recent week.
The community is also experiencing early signs that more people are seeking medical care for COVID-19 symptoms. For example, DeWine said outpatient visits grew from an average of nearly 7 visits per day to 27.
For the hospitals in the West Central region, the number of COVID-positive patients in standard hospital beds, ICUs and ventilators have also doubled since the first week of June. COVID-specific hospital utilization is approaching levels not seen since the earlier peak of the pandemic in April.
Nursing Home Visitation
DeWine said Monday that his job as governor is to protect all Ohioans, saying part of that job means putting in place measures to help keep people safe from the effects of coronavirus.
However, he said it also meant protecting those things that add value to life, and that balance has been the operative word in the state's efforts thus far.
DeWine said acknowledged that restrictions on nursing home visitation has been gut-wrenching for families and that a lack of socialization can have an impact on an individuals well-being.
Therefore, he said, beginning July 20, nursing homes are permitted to begin outdoor visitation, so long as all safety standards are met.
DeWine asked nursing homes to consider:
- Case status in the community
- Case status within the nursing home
- Staffing levels
- Access to adequate testing for residents/staff
- Personal protective equipment supplies
- Hospital capacity
DeWine said his team is confident that their approach provides each facility the flexibility needed to assess their readiness to safely facilitate outdoor visitation and to do so in a transparent way that keeps residents and families informed.
The order and related guidance will be made available at coronavirus.ohio.gov.
DeWine said that we are now a number of months into this virus, which means that there have been a lot of people locked up, unable to see their families, which has weighed on him. Even though Ohio coronavirus cases are on the upswing, DeWine said he believed opening up visitation was important for Ohioans.
He said that his team has laid out a process, approved by experts in the field. Once testing is done in the nursing home, and if they find that facility does not have cases, they can move forward with outdoor visitation as it is much more difficult for the virus to spread in an outdoor setting.
Anyone with questions about visiting their loved ones, can contact the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, an office within the Ohio Department of Aging at at 1-800-282-1206.
DeWine said Monday that his administration was continuing to work on plans to help keep the state's schools safe as they get ready to reopen in the fall.
The goal is to balance the need to get back into school buildings with the need to keep Ohioans healthy and safe at work and in their daily lives as we continue to combat the virus.
When asked if the state was considering how to accommodate older members of school faculty, DeWine said, "absolutely."
While the focus has mostly been on the students, the adults, some within the high-risk category, are being considered in the state's guidelines for schools.
DeWine said Ohioans could hopefully expect more information on school guidelines on Thursday.
Extended Health Orders
DeWine said that due to the recent increase of coronavirus cases in the state, all current health orders will be extended through the end of the week.
His team will be working to finalize plans to take the state into the next phase, which he called a "distinct and different phase" of keeping Ohio open as we head into the second half of the year.
"What people do as individuals is vitally important, every single day," DeWine said.
DeWine said what's happening in Texas, Florida, etc. should be looked at as cautionary tales.
He said he does not want to close anything down, and that's why they are working to encourage people to wear masks.
When people go into a restaurant, a jewelry store, etc. they should have a mask on DeWine said, although that is still not a hard requirement in the state.
"We're right in the middle of this game, we're going to determine the outcome," he said.
DeWine said as the state continues to reopen, his administration is going to move toward a more localized approach.
A reporter made note that the Franklin County health commissioner made a comment that the state opened up bars and restaurants too early, and that it may be time to close them down. DeWine, in response, said this is the time for these discussions to take place and that everything is open to assessment.
However, DeWine said that it is up to individual decisions. He said he believes there are enough restrictions in bars and restaurants so that if they are being followed, patrons and workers should be safe.
More information is expected on Thursday.