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Coronavirus: Stay-at-home order could be extended in Ohio

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The state will require mandatory online tracking of ventilators and other key medical equipment, Gov. Mike DeWine said, also indicating he might extend the statewide stay-at-home order that's set to expire at 11:59 p.m. April 6.

“We cannot let this monster up. We have to keep battling it,” DeWine said Tuesday. The governor ordered Ohioans to stay home for all but essential work and errands starting March 23.

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The governor also said Tuesday the state prison system, which incarcerates 48,000 inmates, is reviewing case by case who could possibly be released early. Non-violent inmates, those close to the end of their sentences or prisoners who have health conditions that put them at high-risk could be released, he said.

DeWine added that Ohio would not release sex offenders or those convicted of serious crimes.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which stopped visitors and volunteers from coming to prisons, has tested 21 inmates for possible coronavirus — 19 tested negative, two tests are pending. A staff member at Marion Correctional Institution tested positive and now all 2,539 prisoners there are in quarantine.

DeWine also announced that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is issuing an order prohibiting water shut offs statewide and requiring water systems reconnect service for customers shut off since Jan. 1. The order does not forgive water bills.

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The Ohio Department of Health reported 2,199 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, including 585 hospitalizations and 55 deaths. That’s an increase of nearly 14% over Monday, when there were 1,933 confirmed cases.

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The DeWine administration divided Ohio into eight regions and assigned the Ohio National Guard to oversee the build out of increased hospital bed capacity to handle the expected surge in COVID-19 patients.

DeWine said he’ll provide on Wednesday an outline for each region and some details of what the build out will look like.

Testing capacity is being stepped up as Battelle Memorial Institute and Ohio State University deploy a new testing system, Abbott Laboratories manufactures a new FDA-approved portable system and University of Cincinnati’s health system anticipates delivery of a machine from Roche that will allow a tenfold increase in testing.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, said in a press call Tuesday that “everybody in Ohio needs to have access to these tests” and that expanded testing is the only way the state can measure its success or failure at slowing the virus.

Results from samples sent to private labs have been lagging as much as a week, prompting DeWine to ask doctors to send samples to the ODH lab, which can get results in under 24 hours.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable as we go through this crisis to be in a situation where we are waiting for five and six days," he said. "Unfortunately, that is what we are seeing from the outside labs that some of you have contracts with.”

DeWine added: “There is nothing wrong with the private labs. They do good work. But they are behind. We are not.”

Also on Tuesday, the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit on behalf of League of Women Voters of Ohio and other voting rights groups challenging House Bill 197, which extends mail-in voting to April 28 after Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton signed a public health order closing polling places for the March 17 primary.

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The groups contend that the process for requesting absentee ballots and sending them back is too cumbersome to accomplish in one month’s time and that Ohio should re-open voter registration.

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