While states like New York and California are being swamped by a tsunami of COVID-19 cases, Ohio continues to brace for the surge. With 102 COVID-19 related deaths and over 3700 postive cases, Governor Mike DeWine warns it is coming.
Restrictions on elective surgeries have freed space in hospitals that will be needed at that time, and in his daily press conference DeWine thanked hospitals who are finding ways to create more space in their buidings. He says the next step to get to the goal of doubling available hospital beds is "building out" - retrofitting other buildings for use as hospital space. DeWine says teams are currently touring sites, and will have a report on that later in the week.
The governor also signed an executive order that allows more people to access counsellors and social workers with a digital meeting, and allows expands the use of telehealth consults, which protects both patients and health care providers. Following last week's approval from the Food and Drug Administration, DeWine says Battelle is now at work sterilizing masks to extend the PPE gear available for medical workers.
"Battelle is now every single day sterilizing these. They have agreed to do this for nothing for a copuple of weeks, so every hospital out there we would just encourage you to bring 'em in. This has a multiplier effect, thiss means that we could use these up to 20 different times, you'll be able to use these 20 times, just bringing them in every time to have them sterilized."
DeWine says the state is continuing to source medical masks from multiple sources, with a plane load arriving Tuesday, and the state is shipping gear out to hopitals as soon as it comes in. For the general public, DeWine says he's following recomendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin wearing cloth or other non-commercial masks when in public. According to a new CDC study, up to 25 percent of people who have the virus have no symptoms. Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton says wearing even home-made masks means those people aren't contributing to the pandemic. "When we're out and about going to the store wearing this can make a difference in us spreading those respiratory droplets to other people. Again, it's not 100%, it's about 80% effective. But that 80%, like our Swiss cheese layers of everything we're doing to stay home adds up collectively to slow the spread of this virus, buying us time."
Lietenant Governor Jon Husted says the unemployment surge hit Ohio hard and fast, with 430,000 unemployment people, crashing state websites and triggering long wait times on the phone with the Department of Job and Family Services. He says JFS's IT department has increased online capacity 20 times previous levels, and by the end of the week there will be an additional thousand people staffing the call center. Husted says the feds are to blame for slow movement on some programs, like support for independent businesses and 1099 employees.
"That is weeks away.... the CARE Act included money for it, but it gave no mechanism for the distribution of that money. So that has to be built from scratch, to make sure that we have a distribution to qualify people, and a distribution system to get that money to them. So we're buidling that system, but we still doen't have guidance from the federal government yet as to how we're supposed to onload people onto that system and how we're supposed to get that money out. "
Husted says when benefits do come through they will be retroactive from the date of unemployment. And in the meantime, the state has enacted 90-day protections on evictions and mortgage relief. For those looking for jobs Husted says as of this weekend, there are 23,000 job postings on the department's website. The pandemic has pushed more and more services online, and Husted acknowledges that's been problematic for people who don't have internet access at home. To help people connect, InnovateOhio has posted a list of available Wi-Fi hotspots around the state.