COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine updated Ohioans on the state's response to COVID-19 at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
The main focus was on the state's public health advisory map, as a number of counties were moved up into Level 3 of the four-level system.
Here's a breakdown of what was discussed at Thursday's conference.
On Thursday, there were 1,444 new cases of COVID-19 in Ohio. This is higher than the 21-day average of 1,239 but lower than Wednesday's number.
There were 21 deaths reported in the last 24-hour period, also above the 21-day average of 18.
Hospitalizations are up as well, with 104 since Wednesday, compared to the average of 92.
ICU admissions, however, are just shy of the 21-day average of 18, with 17 new admissions over the last 24 hours.
PUBLIC HEALTH ADVISORY MAP
A number of new counties were added to the Level 3 (red) category on the state's new public health advisory system.
Locally, Henry, Defiance and Erie were bumped up, joining Lucas County in the red.
Over the past two weeks, Defiance County has seen 30 cases—which is a higher number than any other two-week period. In fact, over 1/3 of the total cases for the entire pandemic have occurred in the past two weeks.
Recent outbreaks in the area have included a workplace setting and social gatherings held in a popular recreation area.
In just two weeks, 89 new cases or 23% of the total number of cases have been reported, making the county “high incidence,” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). DeWine said an increase in ER visits is also of concern.
Many cases have been linked to the Ohio Veteran’s Home. Erie County has also been impacted by the recent outbreaks from Put-in-Bay.
Over past two weeks, over half of Henry County's cases since the beginning of the pandemic have been identified. The county exceeds the "high incidence" category for COVID-19 cases, as defined by the CDC.
Many of these cases have been traced back to a “Name that Tune” event at a local winery on July 11, DeWine said, which has resulted in 53 related cases. The numbers associated with this event may grow as the outbreak investigation continues.
Lucas County was moved into the red last week and has stayed there since. Here's a look at what's keeping the county at Level 3.
WOOD LOWERED TO ORANGE
However, a number of other counties were downgraded on Thursday, including Wood County locally. Wood was in the red, but has been lowered to Level 2 (orange).
However, DeWine cautioned that Wood County is right on the line between red and orange, with 99.4 cases per 100,000 people, the threshold for a high level of incidence per the CDC is 100 cases per 100,000 people.
DeWine said that he believes this indicates the measures being taken to mitigate COVID-19 spread in red counties- increased diligence in social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, reducing interactions with others outside your household- may be helping to slow the increase in these counties.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS
DeWine said although the vast majority of those running bars are doing a great job, a number of outbreaks in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Athens, Henry County, Lawrence County, Medina County, and Sandusky County have been traced back to bars.
Agent-In-Charge Michelle Thourot joined Thursday's conference to discuss what Ohio's investigative unit is seeing in these facilities.
Thourot said that overall, they have seen a lot of compliance. However, there are some outliers in which people are congregating in large numbers, not wearing masks and conducting business as they would have before the pandemic. Those instances, she said, are when citations would be issued.
Last weekend, Thourout said there were approximately 10 permit premises issued a total of 11 citations (one location was cited twice).
Thourout reminded people that the investigative unit and the Ohio Department of Health want to work with business owners and are always available to answer questions.
On June 15, leaders with The Red Cross announced an initiative to test all blood and platelet donors for COVID-19 antibodies, and this week, the first report was received.
Between June 15 and July 18, The Red Cross reported 33,538 Ohioans donated blood, plasma, or platelets. Of these, 436 donors tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies – a 1.3% positivity rate.
The Red Cross reported that nationwide, the positivity rate among donors was 1.4%. However, it is important to note that Red Cross data does not represent all parts of the state equally. For example, Cincinnati and the Dayton area are served by two independent blood banks.
It’s also important to note that during the same time period, hospitals and private labs performed 37,803 antibody tests for Ohioans with 1,624 positives. That’s a higher positivity rate than the Red Cross sample.
But these individuals sought out antibody testing and may have done so because they already believed they had been infected with COVID-19.
INTERNET ACCESS FOR STUDENTS
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced Thursday that he and DeWine would be issuing an RFI (Request for Information), through InnovateOhio, BroadbandOhio, DAS, the Department of Education, and the Management Council for pricing from internet providers for everything from hotspots to laptops to tablets for Ohio schools.
The state will be setting aside $50 million, pending upcoming Controlling Board approval, from funding through the federal CARES Act to provide hotspots and internet-enabled devices to students.
InnovateOhio and ODOT have also launched an E-Permitting System for right-of-way access. This new system replaces a paper-only right-of-way permitting system with an online process that is more convenient for permit requesters.
STATEWIDE MASK ORDER
DeWine said that the jury is out, the verdict is in: masks work.
"If all of us would put on a mask in the next four to six weeks, we could drive this pandemic into the ground," DeWine said.
DeWine said that reports show the counties at Level 3 in the state's new coronavirus advisory system have seen an increase in mask use, which makes sense as once counties hit that level a mask mandate has historically gone into effect.
Preliminary data indicates that the rate of spread in these counties has slowed, DeWine said. He said his team believes, in part, that this is due to the fact that more people are wearing masks in these areas.
Therefore, a mask order has been issued for all Ohio counties, going into effect Thursday at 6 p.m
WHAT TO KNOW
Masks should be worn in the following circumstances:
- In any indoor location that is not a residence
- When you are outdoors and unable to keep six feet of distance from people who aren't members of your household
- While waiting for or riding/driving in shared transit like a bus, taxi, rideshare, etc.
- Children under 10 (medical experts say that masks are NOT to be worn by infants)
- Anyone who has a medical condition or disability that makes it unsafe to wear a mask
- Anyone who needs to communicate with someone with a disability (i.e. someone who uses lipreading)
- While exercising or playing sports
- Those who officiate at religious services, including anyone who is speaking at a religious service when a mask would impede what they are trying to do.
- Those who are actively involved in public safety
- Those who are actively eating or drinking
"Wearing a mask is going to make a difference. It will make a difference in what our fall looks like. What we do between now and the next several weeks will determine what our fall is like," DeWine said. "We all want kids to go back to school, we want to see sports, we want to see a lot of different things. We want to see more opportunities in the fall and to do that it's just very important that all Ohioans wear a mask."
PUBLIC HEALTH ADVISORY MAP
DeWine said that while the situation is starting to improve in some of the counties at Level 3 (red) there are a number of other counties that will likely be moved up into that category this week.
Additionally, a number of tweaks are on the way to the new system.
The early warning system advises Ohioans when the spread of the virus is increasing in their county based on seven different indicators. The system was designed to be refined over time, DeWine said.
In the next few weeks, his team will be adding indicators related to testing as more localized testing data becomes available. Another indicator in the works is related to known contacts spreading the virus when such local data is made available.
Beginning with this week's updated color map, DeWine's team is making an enhancement to the ICU indicator. Currently, the indicator is triggered when a region's ICU capacity exceeds 80% of normal capacity. This indicator will be enhanced to address concerns in the event ICU levels increase for reasons other than COVID.
Starting Thursday, the indicator will be triggered if the region's ICU capacity exceeds 80% of normal capacity and if the 20% of the region's capacity is being used by COVID-19 positive patients.
The map will not be updated until all data is in on Thursday.
There have been 1,527 new cases in the last 24 hours, making Wednesday the second-highest day-to-day increase. The highest was 1,679 last Friday.
Hospitalizations are also up with 128 new hospitalizations from the last 24 hours compared to the 21-day average of 93.
ICU admissions stayed right around the average with 19 since Tuesday. The average is 18 new admissions per day. COVID-related deaths also hovered around the daily average, with 16 new deaths in the last 24-hour period compared to the 21-day average of 17.
A few weeks ago, Ohioans were made aware of a group of 45 students who traveled to Myrtle Beach together from Belmont County. Sixteen people initially tested positive for COVID-19. On Wednesday, DeWine said that 28 of those travelers have tested positive.
"This situation is not unique," DeWine said.
Leaders from multiple health departments are tracing cases in relation to out-of-state travel. Trips to states where there are high positivity rates, such as South Carolina and Florida, are leading to outbreaks in the state of Ohio, DeWine said.
The governor announced a travel advisory on Wednesday, not an order, for all individuals coming into Ohio from states reporting positive testing rates of 15% or higher. He recommended that those individuals self-quarantine for 14 days
If you’re traveling from one of these yellow states, DeWine said, should self-quarantine at home or in a hotel. This applies to those who live in Ohio and those traveling into Ohio from these states, whether they are traveling for businesses or vacationing.
The list of states will be updated weekly and is based on a seven-day rolling average.
DeWine said he spoke to fair board members across the state Wednesday morning.
He said the goal was, and still is, to give kids an outlet who participate in 4-H and junior fairs. In spite of the pandemic, DeWine said, he wanted to preserve this.
Unfortunately, he said some fairs have not been following the health and safety guidelines issued by the state.
An outbreak of 19 cases has been traced back to a county fair.
"We want fairs to continue, but I spoke with county fair managers today and expressed that they must follow the rules," DeWine said.
He said the rules allow people to be as safe as they can, and with the new statewide mask order, masks will be required when there is a large number of people in attendance and attendees are unable to stay six feet apart.
LIMITED LIABILITY PROTECTIONS
DeWine signed onto a Congressional letter along with 20 other governors calling for reasonable limited liability protections for businesses, schools, healthcare workers, and governments as they are reopened amid COVID-19.
The letter calls for predictable, timely, targeted liability protections to shield employers from legal risks associated with the spread of coronavirus so long as they are following the appropriate standards of care to protect their employees, customers, and students.
HOUSE SPEAKER LARRY HOUSEHOLDER
DeWine's press conference held on Wednesday was initially scheduled for Tuesday, but was postponed after Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was arrested and accused in what one US attorney called "probably the largest bribery case ever in Ohio."
"I am deeply concerned about the allegations of wrongdoing in the issued today by the U.S. Attorney’s Office," DeWine said in a statement issued on Tuesday. "Every American has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Because of the nature of these charges, it will be impossible for Speaker Householder to effectively lead the Ohio House of Representatives; therefore, I am calling on Speaker Householder to resign immediately. This is a sad day for Ohio."
House Democrats are already moving to introduce legislation repealing H.B. 6, the bill at the center of this controversy that bailed out the Davis Besse and Perry nuclear power plants.
However, both DeWine and Husted said on Wednesday that they would not support repealing that bill.
We will continue to keep you updated with the latest information.