Some push to re-open economy; DeWine says plan in the works but threat not over

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton show off home-made protective masks at the Ohio Statehouse on Monday. Photo by Laura A Bischoff. Columbus bureau
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton show off home-made protective masks at the Ohio Statehouse on Monday. Photo by Laura A Bischoff. Columbus bureau

Some Republican lawmakers are pushing Gov. Mike DeWine to re-open the economy and questioning some of the data underpinning the administration’s public health orders designed to quash the spread of the coronavirus.

DeWine said his team will work over the weekend on a plan for how and when Ohio will lift the shut down orders.

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The Ohio Department of Health is now directing physicians, funeral directors and local registrars to list COVID-19 on death certificates in all cases where tests confirm it as a cause of death or it is assumed to be a cause or factor. ODH also directed local health departments to report probable cases of COVID-19 — instances where the patient has the symptoms but hasn’t been tested.

The DeWine administration said the changes are in response to new guidance from federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Probable cases and deaths attributed to COVID-19 will be reported separately so that apples-to-apples comparisons can be made, the governor said.

House Speaker Larry Householder and state Sen. Stephen Huffman, who is an emergency room physician and former coroner, said the changes could jack up Ohio’s coronavirus death and case numbers.

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“Now Department of Health is just saying if you have symptoms, we are saying you are positive. How does that make any sense? Unless you are trying to escalate your numbers,” said Householder, R-Glenford. “But 700,000 Ohioans are unemployed now while they are escalating their numbers to justify the policies.”

The Ohio Department of Health on Friday reported 5,836 confirmed cases, including 1,755 hospitalizations and 227 deaths. The state also reported an additional 42 probable cases and four deaths, under the CDC’s new expanded reporting definitions.

DeWine said to be counted as a probable COVID-19 case, the patient must have symptoms, possible exposure to a confirmed case and no other likely diagnosis.

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“I understand what they are saying, but no one should doubt how deadly this is,” DeWine said. “This is not a game. This is not something I woke up one day and decided to impose these regulations on the state. Ohioans have done well.”

State Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, sent a letter to DeWine asking that elective surgeries be resumed so doctors and nurses can return to work. State Rep. J. Todd Smith, R-Farmersville, said he would send a letter to DeWine asking that shut down orders be rescinded.

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“This conversation has been going on around kitchen tables throughout the entire state and on social media and it is time the conversation is brought forward and made public,” Smith said.

A report published April 8 in The Lancet found that relaxing social distancing should be done gradually and in concert with close monitoring of transmission rates, case fatality risks and widespread testing. Acton said areas that relax the restrictions too soon face a spike in cases and a return to restrictions.

Ohio took action early and that’s made a huge difference, DeWine said.

“No one should think this is over,” DeWine said. “Any Ohioan who hasn’t had this can get it.”

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Other coronavirus news announced Friday:

• Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will begin testing all inmates in prisons where coronavirus infections have been confirmed.

• Ohio Department of Transportation will issue free permits to food trucks that want to serve food at the state’s 86 rest stops.

• JobsOhio purchased 3,100 cases of hand sanitizer made by Ohio distilleries and will donate it to food banks across the state for distribution.

• STERIS, an Ohio company based in Mentor, received Food and Drug Administration approval for small scale decontamination of N95 masks. The company has 100 machines that can process 10 masks each in about a half an hour.

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