Coronavirus Pandemic: DeWine says Ohio will see significant increases in testing in coming weeks

‘Universities should plan for distance learning for fall unless we hear otherwise from the state,’ Montgomery County health commissioner says

Gov. Mike DeWine announced the new FDA approval of Thermo Fisher’s reagent will allow Ohio to expand its testing capabilities as the state works to reopen the economy.

DeWine, continuing to share his administration’s plan to reopen the state, extended his order for schools to continue distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year and announced the creation of a task force to look into whether the coronavirus is having a disproportionate affect on black Ohioans.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 13,725 cases in the state, 557 deaths and 2,779 hospitalizations, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Ohio has an estimated population of approximately 11.7 million, census records show.

Twenty-two percent of the positive cases in Ohio are from two of Ohio’s prisons. At those prisons, there has been an increase in testing.

[ Local cases, deaths reported to Ohio Department of Health ]

There have been 94,239 people tested for coronavirus in Ohio. Of the cases in the state, 2,169 are health care workers.

It is important to note the number of confirmed cases is not a true reflection of actual cases in the state because of the limited amount of testing available. The hope is that the number of cases will be more accurate because of the expansion of the testing standards.

The state remains under an extended stay-at-home order until May 1.

Ohio and several states remain on track to gradually reopen businesses beginning May 1 amid continuing concerns about a lack of testing, rapid testing, and personal protection equipment as well as the ability to perform contact tracing. Spikes in new cases could slow or derail states’ plans to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeWine held his daily 2 p.m. briefing on the state’s response to the virus pandemic.

The following announcements were made:

  • MORE TESTING COMING: The FDA has approved a new version of Thermo Fisher’s reagent for testing. DeWine said this will lead to significant increases in the amount of testing in the state each day. A reagent is a substance or mixture for use in chemical analysis or other reactions
  • TESTING STRIKE TEAM: DeWine announced the formation of a Testing Strike Team led by former Govs. Richard Celeste and Bob Taft. They will work with state leaders from business, academia, and public health to help the state source critical testing items such as reagents. “They know how to make things happen," DeWine said
  • STATE FAIRS: DeWine announced that this year, the Ohio Department of Agriculture will waive the requirement that Agricultural Societies must put up matching funds to receive $50,000 facilities grants. Fairs that qualify will still have this money to put toward improvements, even if the local match isn’t available. Fair managers have until May 30 to apply via the agriculture department’s website. DeWine said it’s not yet known what fairs will look like
  • HELP FOR SMALL BUSINESS: Ohio Jobs, Peoples Bank headquartered in Marietta, and the recently-merged First Federal Bank and Home Savings Bank (headquartered in Defiance and Youngstown) are announcing a partnership to support those banks’ existing small business clients in Ohio. The partnership with these financial institutions will help small businesses maintain operations and payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic, DeWine said. JobsOhio has committed up to $50 million to assist Peoples Bank and First Federal-Home Savings Bank. Eligible businesses can use the loan for working capital, including payroll, rent, mortgages or other fixed debts, utilities and other bills
  • HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS RISE: Dr. Amy Acton said the state has seen an uptick in hospital admissions because of COVID-19
  • EASING RESTRICTIONS: DeWine said hospitals will be one of the places he is looking at for easing restrictions as the state prepares to reopen. He is reviewing recommendations from the Ohio Hospital Association. He also said the state will be looking at what other businesses can operate safely, including manufacturing and retail. DeWine said announcements will be coming. Social distancing will be a key part of those announcements
  • FAMILY SOCIAL DISTANCING: Acton said even when the economy begins to reopen, families should work hard to maintain their small circles, preferably in households. It’s the way Ohioans can stay safe, she said, noting she expects these social distancing practices will need to continue for several months

Public Health -- Dayton & Montgomery County held a briefing on the county’s response to the pandemic.

Here are the highlights:

  • UD & DISTANCE LEARNING: “Universities should plan for distance learning for the fall unless we hear otherwise from the state,” said Health Commissioner Jeff Cooper, Public Health -- Dayton & Montgomery County. He said PHDMC is in preliminary discussions with the University of Dayton and offered the statement when asked whether PHDMC has had conversations with area universities, specifically a place like UD where students live in dorms or campus houses.
  • CONTACT TRACING: The goal of contact tracing is to find people the infected person has been around and to isolate the person and the contacts to keep the virus from spreading, PHDMC Medical Director Michael Dohn, M.D., said. PHDMC’s 30-member team so far has confirmed 235 contact tracing cases in the county and has tracked down 344 contacts. The team also has confirmed 54 cases involving travelers returning to the area.
  • KEEP REACHING OUT: Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is asking each resident to reach out to at least five people not in their immediate family to see how the people are doing during the pandemic. Don’t just send a text, she said, but call the people and speak with them. She also continued to ask residents to continue practicing social distancing. “Enjoy the sunshine, apart from your neighbors,” Whaley said

President Trump and the White House coronavirus task force held a news briefing this evening on the federal response.

Here are the highlights:

  • COVID-19 FUNDING BILL: The Senate on Tuesday afternoon passed a $484 billion interim COVID-19 funding bill by voice vote. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the bill means $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the emergency loan program for small businesses, $50 billion for loans to small businesses and hospitals, and an “unprecedented amounts of money” for testing. Members of the House are beginning to return to Washington for a vote, which could take place as early as Thursday. Trump tweeted, before the briefing, that he is ready for the legislative branch to move on to a fourth stimulus package. Mnuchin said a Phase 4 would be about infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) and it’s premature to say what a Phase 4 will cost. “It will be a big investment,” he said
  • PPP LOAN RETURNS: Mnuchin said he was pleased Shake Shack has decided to return a $10 million PPP loan. An estimated 1 million small companies did get PPP loans in the last round, he said. The intent of the money was not big businesses that have access to capital, Mnuchin said, to which Trump interjected, “Harvard’s going to pay back the money,” Trump said, alluding to Harvard University, which has a $40 million endowment, getting a $8.7 million PPP loan. “They’re going to pay back that money,” the president said
  • IMMIGRATION PAUSE: Trump said his executive order to temporarily suspend immigration, which will remain in effect 60 days, puts unemployed Americans first in line for jobs. “We must first take care of the American worker,” he said. After the 60-day pause, the administration will consider the nation’s economic condition in deciding whether to extend the order. Trump said the immigration stoppage applies only to those seeking permanent status (green cards). He said he would mostly likely sign the order Wednesday, as it was being drawn up Tuesday night
  • TESTING UPDATE: FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, in updating the status of antibody tests, said there are 140 test developers pursuing applications for antibody test kits. He said there are 90 manufacturers marketing tests and the FDA is working to validate each of those tests. On the anti-viral drug hydroxychloroquine, Hahn said there are 30 clinical trials occurring and results on its effectiveness won’t be available until sometime this summer. He said a VA study that found a number of deaths resulted from use of the drug was a small sample. According to national media reports, there were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, researchers reported in the VA study. The nationwide study was not a rigorous experiment, but with 368 patients it’s the largest look so far of hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin for COVID-19, which has killed more than 171,000 people as of Tuesday

What you need to know today, Tuesday:

  • SCHOOLS FUTURE: While he said it wouldn’t be a good idea to reopen schools now even if the virus was under control, DeWine hinted about the possibility the state would have a blended learning system this fall -- some distance as well as some in-person learning.
  • MINORITY TASK FORCE: DeWine said his concern about COVID-19 disproportionately impacting African Americans in Ohio and the country led him to create a 38-member Minority Health Strike Force. While the state’s data on the racial breakdown of patients infected by COVID-19 is incomplete, that early data show the African American community makes up 21% of COVID-19 patients across Ohio. “That certainly is disproportionate to the African American population in the state of Ohio, which is somewhere between 13% and 14%,” he said, noting it’s more likely that as additional data come in, the number of cases affecting black Ohioans is likely to be far higher than the 21% indicated so far.
  • DAYCARE FACILITIES: The state has not made a decision on whether to reopen daycare facilities. For the same reason the state doesn’t want schools meeting in person - it’s the same concern for daycare facilities, DeWine said. “It’s a number of kids together who then go back home - it’s a perfect recipe for spread. We’re not ready yet to open up more daycares yet."
  • SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN: DeWine also is concerned for children with special developmental needs, children with health challenges, children with no access to the Internet and children without a supportive home life as school districts plan for the fall. There has to be a focus on providing these children an education, he said.
  • TESTING CAPACITY: Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the federal response to COVID-19, said, “we have enough testing capacity in American for every state to go to Phase One” of the White House guidelines on reopening states. Under Phase One, vulnerable individuals are required to continue sheltering in place. Their household members are advised to remain cautious for their at-risk family member(s). All people are advised to remain socially distant in public and avoid social settings of more than 10 people, unless precautionary measures are observed. The White House recommends minimizing non-essential travel, and for people to continue following Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Employers should reopen businesses, allowing people to return to work in phases, and allow for telework and special accommodations for those who need it. Schools, bars and visits to hospitals should be avoided. Large venues, such as movie theaters, gyms and places of worship may open by following strict social distancing guidelines. Elective surgeries can resume on an outpatient basis.

What else you need to know: