DeWine Reiterates Safe Reopening; Sets Testing Priorities

Updated 6:30 p.m., May 4 | Background information on protests
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — As offices, manufacturers and other industries made their way back to work Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine said his is administration is working closely with professionals from other industries to set protocols and guidelines to reopen their businesses as well.

On Monday, he spoke with a restaurant group, which he says has “made some very good progress” on establishing best-practice protocol for reopening, which will be rolling out in the next several days, along with a date of when restaurants can reopen. The focus group for the restaurant industry is composed of representatives of small diners up to larger chains.

“As we start this new phase, the emphasis is on how … and for that, we’re relying on the people who do the work every single day,” he said. “We’re relying on them to kind of set the guidelines and standards so we can assure people when they go back that they’re as safe as they can be.”

Guiding the reopening is data from the Ohio Department of Health that looks at 21-day trends in a number of categories, particularly hospitalizations because of COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus, DeWine said. The charts offer a “fairly good idea” of how the state is doing, with hospitalizations putting “a real figure” to the number of people who are going in who have tested positive for COVID-19.

On average, Ohio sees 85 hospitalizations for COVID-19 based on the current 21-day period. The trend line “is not as good as we would want,” DeWine admits, but says it is going down. Hospitalizations are down to about 40 daily from 123 at the start of the 21-day period.

As the state prepares to reopen retail locations – retailers can currently do business by appointment or curbside service – the governor emphasized the importance of the role the general population will play in the success of the reopening. He reiterated the importance of maintaining social distancing guidelines, wearing face coverings or masks, sanitizing surfaces and practicing good hygiene.

“This is now really up to you,” DeWine said.

The governor acknowledged that not all Ohioans agree with the current process – that some think things are moving too quickly, while other think it’s too slow. As protestors vocalize their opinions, DeWine advised to direct messages of protest and frustration to him, and not to the news media or members of his cabinet, including Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

“The buck stops with me. I’m the responsible person,” DeWine said. “Come after me. I’m fair game. They’re not.”

Over the weekend, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on a group of some 25 protesters outside the Bexley home of Acton on Saturday with signs reading “Dr. Amy Over-Re-Acton Hairstylists are Essential” and “Let Freedom Work.”

Protests have also drawn antisemitic rhetoric. Acton is Jewish. In April, during a stay-at-home protest at the statehouse, some protesters holding a sign illustrating a rodent with the Star of David on its side with the words “The Real Plague.”

In a Facebook post on Friday, state Rep. Nino Vitale, R-85, referred to Acton as a “globalist,” an antisemitic term.

“Your basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness do not come from an unelected Globalist Health Director, who signed the order in the dark of night,” he wrote. “Your basic human rights are inalienable and cannot be bought, sold, traded or taken from you.”

Before that, State Sen. Andrew Brenner commented on his wife’s Facebook post comparing orders signed by Acton to Nazi Germany.

“This actually feels like Hitler’s Germany where you had to have blonde hair and blue eyes to be able to function anyway, and you were damned otherwise,” Sara Brenner wrote. “When are people going to say enough is enough?”

“We won’t allow that to happen in Ohio,” Sen. Brenner responded. Brenner issued an apology after bipartisan criticism of the post.

By the end of this month, Ohio looks to ramp up testing to about 22,000 tests conducted daily across the state on the strength of a partnership between Roe Dental Lab, Formlabs, Thermo Fisher Scientific and the Ohio Manufacturing Alliance, he said. While testing is just one response to the virus, it gives health care professionals a tool to positively identify those who are infected, isolate them and begin contact tracing, he said.

Statewide, testing has gradually increased, Acton said. Currently, the state tests about 6,000 individuals daily, up from 3,000 to 4,000 initially. Cumulatively, Ohio has tested about 1.3% of its population thus far, she said.

As testing is expanded, the Department of Health has issued testing criteria for the state.

The top priority is patients with symptoms who have been hospitalized or are health care workers, including behavioral health providers, home health workers, nursing facility and assisted living employees, emergency medical technicians, housekeepers and others who work in health care and congregate living settings.

Congregate living settings are defined as those where more than six people live and where there is a propensity for rapid person-to-person spread of infectious disease, according to information from the health department. Some examples include assisted livings and nursing homes, Ohio veterans homes, residential facilities for mental health or substance use treatment, psychiatric hospitals or group homes, care centers or group homes for those with intellectual disabilities, homeless and domestic violence shelters, youth detention centers, prisons and jails.

The next priority group is Ohioans with symptoms who are residents of long-term care or congregate living centers, first responders, public health workers, critical infrastructure workers, anyone 65 or older and those living with underlying conditions. The second group includes Ohioans without symptoms, but who are residents or staff directly exposed during an outbreak in long-term care or congregate living settings, as well as those who are designated by public health officials to evaluate or manage community outbreaks, such as in workplaces or other large gatherings.

“Any community place where there is an outbreak or hot spot will be treated as something we have to look at and prioritize,” Acton said. “Local health departments will play a major role in this.”

The third priority group are Ohioans with or without symptoms who are receiving essential surgeries or procedures, including those that were reassessed after a delay, Acton said. This group includes those individuals receiving other medically necessary procedures not requiring an overnight stay/inpatient hospital admission, as defined by their providers’ process for COVID-19 testing.

This is important as Ohio’s hospitals and other care centers continue to reopen their doors for procedures that were initially postponed because they were necessary or life-saving. Anyone coming in for such a procedure will likely be tested three days ahead of time, and not all procedures will be tested, she said.

For now, testing capacity in the state isn’t where it needs to be to test Ohioans who are mildly ill, who aren’t at risk or who may be asymptomatic, she said, though that is eventually the goal. General care providers are still the gatekeepers for determining if someone needs a test, so anyone with mild symptoms should contact their care provider if the symptoms worsen, she said.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted gave and update on the status of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles and its 181 deputy registrars that have been closed since March 19. Currently, there are no plans to reopen BMVs beyond the five that are currently open for services that cannot be performed online, Husted said.

However, the state is in the process of establishing an online check-in system for when the BMVs do reopen. The system will allow individuals to make reservations for services rather than the existing first-come, first-served process.

“We don’t want large crowds. We don’t want everyone rushing back,” Husted said. “We are creating an online system to do that so we have an orderly process for when we restart the BMVs to avoid a large rush of people coming at the same time.”

So far, the state has 20 BMVs in the system and will ensure all are in the system prior to reopening. The state is also installing protective barriers for workers at those sites. Additionally, the passage of H.B. 197 in late March extended by 90 days the validity of state and local licenses.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.