DeWine Expands Telehealth; Mahoning, Cuyahoga Lead in Most Deaths from Virus

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Gov. Mike DeWine signed an order Saturday that expands the use of telehealth as well as issuing an advisory for Ohioans to wear masks in public after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently made the recommendation to help fight the spread of coronavirus.

DeWine explained his actions at a news conference Saturday that coincided with the state releasing the latest numbers on the spread of COVID-19.

At 2 p.m., Mahoning County was tied with Cuyahoga County with 13 deaths from COVID-19, but has dropped to fifth in the state in the number of cases at 250 with 107 hospitalizations. Cuyahoga County leads the state in confirmed cases, jumping to 781 with 203 hospitalizations.

The number of deaths in Ohio has increased to 102 while Ohio’s number of cases is 3,739 with 1,006 hospitalizations. Locally, Trumbull County in ninth in the state with 90 cases, 38 hospitalizations and seven deaths. Columbiana has 36 cases with 19 people hospitalized and five deaths.

The seventh death in Trumbull County was announced at 5 p.m. Saturday.

The first Ohio prison inmate has tested positive for COVID-19. The inmate is housed at the Marion Correctional Institution where at least one employee also has tested positive.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation website shows all of Marion’s 2,535 prisoners have been quarantined along with all 929 prisoners at the Toledo Correctional Institution.

Meanwhile, Columbiana County health officials have told employees at the federal prison in Elkton where three inmates have died from COVID-19 to use self-quarantine protocols when not at work.

DeWine said he will wear a mask when he is in public, emphasizing it is out of respect to protect others. As the CDC advisory states, “The virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity — for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing –even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms,” the governor noted.

“This is not a substitute for social distancing. These are not the N95 masks that our medical community wears. This should be socially acceptable,” DeWine said, adding that employers should permit any employee who chooses to wear a mask to do so.

“These masks will not make you bullet proof,” added Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health. “They will not prevent you from getting the virus, but are meant to wear when we are out and about to protect other people because many people are asymptomatic. Some studies say up to 25% of people may never know they have it while a number of us can become very sick.”

Acton pleaded that people should not buy N95 masks or surgical masks, which are running dangerously low and are needed for front line professionals. A video on how to make and wear masks is available on the state’s website Coronavirus.ohio.gov.

DeWine said Ohio-based company Batelle is sterilizing medical masks for hospitals to reuse and facilities should get masks to the company quickly because they are doing cleanings at no cost for two weeks. Ohio is urgently seeking to procure supplies of new masks and other personal protective equipment for health care workers, even buying PPEs internationally, he added. A plane is expected to arrive Tuesday with a shipment.

DeWine also signed an order expanding the use of telehealth by relaxing requirements for doctors and social workers to use the technology.

“Today we’re doing things differently so people caring for themselves mentally and physically can do so,” the governor said. “Telehealth used to require an initial face-to-face meeting and training before being provided. This order for those requirements will be removed to make it easier for people to be seen and break down barriers. Mental health is part of physical health and this will ensure that those who need these services can get them and allows access without someone from leaving their homes.”

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted reported the state is setting up WiFi hot spots that are meant to help people who may not have, or have unreliable internet connections from being able to complete homework assignments or apply for jobs and other assistance.

Maps showing where hot spots are available can be found at Coronavirus.ohio.gov under the business help, family tabs section.

“I understand the irony of this, that we have a website for people who do not have Internet access and we understand that you may have to leave home to get access to it, but we also understand how important it is because this is a map of all the hot spots around the state,” Husted said.

Husted encouraged people to go to the job search portal website as there are 23,000 jobs available from employers who are in desperate need of workers.

The state leaders also warned to be cautious of people running phony drive-up coronavirus test sites that are beginning to popping up around the state.

Acton said these sites are most often run by a local hospital and in order to be tested, a person must have a referral or prescription from a doctor.

“A test site that is open to the public is something you should be cautious of as being a scam,” Acton said.

Husted said scams like this, or any other, should be reported to local police and/or local health departments and the state’s Attorney General.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.