Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday ordered all public and private K-12 schools to close for three weeks, beginning at the end of the school day Monday, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The “extended spring break” will affect 1.7 million students as well as parents who will scramble to find childcare or make arrangements to work from home.
The closure, which does not apply to daycare centers, could extend beyond the three-week period, the governor said.
Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton also signed a public health order immediately banning gatherings of 100 or more people in confined indoor or outdoor spaces.
The order exempts public transit, medical facilities, retail spaces, libraries and other transient settings as well as offices, restaurants, factories, athletic events without spectators and religious gatherings including weddings and funerals.
Public health orders may be enforced by police but DeWine said he hopes people will abide by them out of a sense of civic duty and patriotism.
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DeWine said these steps are needed to slow the spread of coronavirus so that the health care system isn’t overwhelmed with a spike in cases, which could trigger a shortage of equipment and health care workers.
“We know that it will continue to spread but slowing it down will enable health care providers, our hospitals, our doctors, will be able to stay up with the medical problems this virus is causing,” DeWine said. “…We do not want to be in a situation where our medical providers are making life and death decisions on who lives and who dies.”
Acton estimated that 1% of Ohioans — more than 100,000 — are already infected and the number will double every six days. Some models predict that cases may peak in late April to mid-May, she said.
“We don’t have all the data. Our delay in being able to test has delayed our understanding of the spread of this so we have to make these modeling decisions,” she said.
The Ohio Department of Health reported a fifth confirmed case on Thursday involving a 55-year-old man from Trumbull County. While he is in an intensive care unit, his wife and three kids are in quarantine and test results are pending.
Additional steps announced Thursday by DeWine include:
— a public order will be issued banning all visitors to nursing homes;
— a public order will be issued banning all visitors to the state’s psychiatric hospitals;
— the state Department of Job and Family Services asks people to call or conduct business online, rather than in person;
— state agency directors will begin allowing state employees to work from home, when possible;
— the ODH lab is now operating in three shifts and received more supplies to conduct coronavirus tests;
— Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost will enforce state laws that prohibit price gouging during crises;
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— Ohio will ask President Trump to suspend federal mandates requiring state authorities inspect and regulate certain industries.
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“We gotta run this gauntlet and we have to try to get through that gauntlet without losing too many of us,” DeWine said at press conference. “Everyone has to think about other people. That’s why this is so very important.”
COVID-19, or coronavirus disease, is a respiratory disease marked by fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. The novel virus, first detected in December 2019 in China, is generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets, picking it up from surfaces, and between people who are in close contact with one another, about six feet.
The Center for Disease Control reports that there are 1,215 confirmed cases and 36 fatalities in the United States. While about 80% of cases are considered to be mild, those who are elderly or have chronic health conditions are high risk of complications, according to the CDC.
Ohio public health officials say there is evidence that the virus has been spreading within the community for some time. With the state estimating about 1% of Ohioans are infected, Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County Commissioner Jeff Cooper said to assume there are cases now in the Dayton region.
Cooper said “it’s going to get pretty rocky” but Public Health is going to be working with other groups for impact, and is committed to equity since a lot of these decisions being made could disproportionately affect vulnerable, low income people who are at risk.
“So we need to make sure that as we forward, we’re we’re taking equity into consideration,” Cooper said.
“We need people to remember that just because you feel well, you’re young and you’re healthy, the decisions you’re making will affect other people around you,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
Dayton Public Schools
Mohamed Al-Hamdani, president of the Dayton Board of Education, has called for an emergency school board meeting at 1:30 p.m. Friday to discuss the district’s plans during the closure.
The school district anticipated that schools might have to close and have been formulating plans to figure out ways to continue delivering other important services students receive, like multiple daily meals and physical and mental therapies, Al-Hamdani said.
“It seems it’s moving faster than they anticipated,” he said.
He said they hope to use their “existing infrastructure” to continue to deliver meals and serve the district’s 12,000 students.
Al-Hamdani said he’s worried about the hardship this will cause on families, who suddenly have to figure out childcare arrangements.
“But the reality is we have to make sure they stay safe and avoid contact with this virus,” he said. “I think they’re taking the right measures.”
Al-Hamdani said making up three weeks will be very difficult – and the actual amount of time students will be out of schools could be longer. This break comes during a key stage in testing preparation, which is unfortunate because Dayton Public Schools has been bouncing back academically, he said.
“Academically speaking, it will be hard, and for a lot of families, it will be financially and mentally hard to go the next three weeks without school,” he said.
Containing the spread
In recent days, sporting events have been canceled, college administrators ordered instruction to be conducted online instead of in-person, and prison visits have been prohibited.
What symptoms should you watch for
What steps to take to prevent illness
Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro said the union, which represents 122,000 teachers, supports DeWine’s decision to close K-12 schools and stands ready to to work with state and local leaders to make sure children are in a healthy and safe environment.
The DeWine administration said schools should work to provide education through alternative means and staff should continue to report to school as directed by administrators.
The Ohio Department of Education over the next three days will develop guidance for schools on continuing important student services, including providing meals to those who receive free and reduced price breakfast and lunch.
When asked how limited testing capacity and delays may have hampered the country’s ability to get a handle on the crisis, Acton said:
“The testing is important because it gives us good data on what’s going on … I feel like this has been a very slow train coming my way and I’m almost relieved that it’s here and we are all collectively realizing it because it is so predictable, a pandemic. I have assumed community spread all along. Very soon we’ll probably stop testing at these levels because we’ll just assume upwards of 70% and it’s going to spread among us and we’ll assume that it is here.”
Acton said hospitals prepare for outbreaks on a regular basis and major medical systems are making plans on a regional basis.
Dr. Michael Dohn of Public Health said this virus that’s part of the outbreak is more infectious than flu. It has a death rate that is about 10 times greater than flu, he said.
The CDC also says that while most people have mild cases, there’s a higher rate of people with severe symptoms with this disease than with flu. There’s no vaccine for it, and since it is new, people didn’t already have immunity.
On the other hand, Dohn said, like with other illnesses, most people will be able to manage their illness on their own by staying home until they feel better. Some people who feel mildly ill will have the seasonal flu, since it is flu season, or they might have other common illnesses.
“If you’re sick, and you’re not real sick, stay at home, take care of yourself, and get better,” Dohn said.
Trusted sources for the latest coronavirus info:
Ohio Department of Health, 833-4-ASK-ODH, coronavirus.ohio.gov
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov/coronavirus
Public Health has opened a call center that will be staffed FROM 8 A.M. TO 4 P.M. Monday to Friday. The public may call for general COVID-19 related questions at 937-225-6217.
What can you do to prevent it:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and dry them with a clean towel or air dry them.
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.
Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing.
Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
Stay home when you are sick.
Avoid contact with people who are sick.
Clean high-touch areas, such as doorknobs, light switches, bathroom fixtures and tables, everyday.
Avoid mass gatherings.
Sources: CDC, Ohio Department of Health