Updated: DeWine Closes Schools, Bans 100-Person Gatherings

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine emphasized Thursday afternoon that the coronovirus pandemic is now “a crisis” in the state, and actions must be taken to minimize the spread of the virus.

The governor ordered all public and private schools to be closed for three weeks beginning Tuesday, announced new visitation regulations and orders with regard to nursing homes and hospitals, and said all public events with more than 100 people attended are banned.

The regulations are part of an order signed at the governor’s news conference by Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

Also Thursday, the state confirmed the latest positive coronavirus diagnosis of a 55-year-old male from Trumbull County who had no recent travel history outside of the state of Ohio. DeWine says the patient is currently in intensive care and his family are under quarantine.

“Fortunately, he did not go to work when he developed these symptoms,” DeWine said.

That makes five confirmed cases in the state with 52 individuals under investigation and 333 under health supervision, as well as 30 who have tested negative, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

However, the confirmed numbers are just “a small fraction of those infected” in Ohio, DeWine said, adding that medical experts have advised that whatever the number is today, “It will double in six days.”

“This is a one in 50 years pandemic,” Acton added. “We have never seen a situation exactly like this.”

Acton advised reporters that the state testing lab received two more testing kits, bringing capacity to 1,200 to 1,500 individuals who can be tested. Each kit can process about 500 individuals. The testing lab is also moving to three shifts to speed the process.

At least 1% of the state’s population is likely carrying the virus, and with more than 11 million people in the state, “that’s over 100,000,” she says. Whether residents abide by the stipulations in the order determines whether the situation will become a small or large monster, but said “there’s no scenario where there is no monster.”

Testing is still limited, as are ventilators and other equipment to help those who contract the virus, Acton said. She reiterated the need for “clean diagnoses” from health care providers, emphasizing those testing patients to ask about their travel history and contact with anyone under investigation.

Within the next several days, the governor’s office will issue regulations to stop visitation at nursing homes, he told reporters. Individuals who have to be at the nursing homes and hospitals will have their temperatures checked and will be restricted “as much as is practical,” he said.

Mass gatherings of 100 people or more are prohibited in the state until further notice, he said. That includes events held in auditoriums, large conference rooms, theaters and any indoor or outdoors spaces, such as parades, festivals and fairs.

“This is not something that we want to do, but no one knows the safety of their patients better than the nursing homes themselves,” DeWine said. “This will not last forever. This is temporary. Everything we’re doing is temporary.”

Excluded from the order are spaces where people are in transit, such as grocery stores, restaurants, offices, airports, shopping malls, etc., he said. Athletic events that exclude spectators are also permitted.

The order doesn’t apply to religious gatherings, including weddings and funerals.

Nor does the order apply to election day, emphasized Lt. Gov. Jon Husted. Husted and DeWine encouraged Ohioans to take advantage of early voting and to pick a time of day where there wouldn’t be as many people.

Husted said poll workers who have “unique health limitations” will not be present on Tuesday, and the state is attempting to secure more poll workers for election day.

Starting at the end of the school day on March 16, spring break has been extended by three weeks to at least April 3 for all public and private schools in Ohio. Near the end of the extension, the state will review whether it needs to keep schools closed for longer, the governor said.

Unless a child has a medical problem, the risk of death for a child contracting the coronavirus “is not very high,” but they are potential carriers just as an adult is a potential carrier, DeWine said.

“We have to take this action,” he said. “We have to do everything we can to slow down the spread of the virus.”

DeWine said he understands this will impact families, particularly those where both parents work. And while he understands the sacrifices that will entail, “This is the best medical advice we can get by people who study viruses, and we know it’s the right thing to do.”

Over the next 72 hours, the Ohio Department of Education will develop guidance for K-12 schools to ensure certain wraparound services will continue for students, such as providing meals, according to officials.

The state is working with business leadership throughout Ohio to support businesses that may be impacted by the pandemic.

“We are working to provide that support and relief so we can both take smart medical and health advice and minimize the economic impact,” DeWine said.

To learn more about how to get tested, Ohio residents shuld call 833 4ASK ODH. Up-to-date information, including virus fact sheets and symptom checklists, are available at Coronavirus.ohio.gov.

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