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Morning Headlines: 72 Ohio Counties Now on Red Alert, Franklin First to Hit Purple; Ohio Double-Checking Backlog of 12,000 Antigen Tests

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OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that 72 of the state’s 88 counties are now on red alert, and Franklin County has become first to be placed on the highest level of purple. Lake, Lorain and Montgomery counties could be added to the purple list next week.

Here are your morning headlines for Friday, November 20:

  • 72 Ohio counties now on red alert, Franklin first to hit purple
  • Ohio double-checking backlog of 12,000 antigen tests
  • COVID-19 cases double in Ohio’s K-12 schools in the last week
  • Cuyahoga Public Library closes branches to the public
  • FirstEnergy: Ohio regulator's firm got $4M consulting fee
  • Bill to limit health orders passes, but DeWine promises veto
  • OSU moves all classes online
  • Ohioans warned about unemployment scam
  • Head of CVNP moves west
  • Ohio sued over lower payments to relatives caring for kids
  • Ohio lawmakers OK revamp of eligibility for school vouchers
  • High school football championships moved from Columbus to Massillon

72 Ohio counties now on red alert, Franklin first to hit purple
Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that 72 of the state’s 88 counties are now on red alert for coronavirus spread, and Franklin County has become first to be placed on the highest level of purple. Lake, Lorain and Montgomery counties could be added to the purple list next week. Meanwhile, Summit County joined Cuyahoga, Medina and others in issuing a stay-at-home advisory through Dec. 16. County officials are urging residents to only leave their homes for essential trips and to not host guests, including for Thanksgiving. Details on Ohio’s 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, which was issued Thursday, can be found here.

Ohio double-checking backlog of 12,000 antigen tests
Ohio reported nearly 7,800 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, but Gov. Mike DeWine said there are still 12,000 antigen tests over the last three days that the state is double-checking. The less-reliable rapid tests are becoming more widely-used and overwhelming health departments. Double-checking involves making a phone call to confirm the results. DeWine says there are now more than 3,800 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ohio, a number that keeps climbing.

COVID-19 cases double in Ohio’s K-12 schools in the last week
COVID-19 cases are rising in Ohio’s K-12 schools. The state reported 4,500 new cases among students and staff in the past week, nearly double the number reported the prior week. Cleveland.com reports Northeast Ohio schools with the most newly reported student include Brunswick with 27 and Medina with 18. Twinsburg in Summit County reported 21.

Cuyahoga Public Library closes branches to the public
The Cuyahoga County Public Library is closing its branches to the public amid the coronavirus surge. All 27 library locations will now offer curbside and drive-thru services only. In Summit County, all library locations remain open except for the Springfield-Lakemore location, which is experiencing staff shortages due to COVID-19.

FirstEnergy: Ohio regulator's firm got $4M consulting fee
FirstEnergy reported Thursday that some former executives improperly paid a firm tied to a future Ohio utility regulator about $4 million early last year to terminate “a purported consulting agreement” in place since 2013. Ohio's largest electric utility did not name Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo in its quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, but he fits the filing's description. The payment was discovered during an internal FirstEnergy review related to a $60 million federal bribery probe. FBI agents searched Randazzo's Columbus home Monday.

Bill to limit health orders passes, but DeWine promises veto
Gov. Mike DeWine was unsuccessful in convincing lawmakers to not pass legislation that would limit the powers of his administration and health officials as the virus’ spread across Ohio reached new peaks. The bill strips the governor’s authority to shut down businesses in health orders like the one DeWine did earlier this year. DeWine on Thursday promised to veto the bill, saying he has a “moral obligation” to do so. The House would need 60 votes to override a governor’s veto.

OSU moves all classes online
Ohio State University is going entirely remote after Franklin County was moved to the highest level on the state’s COVID-19 alert map. The change takes effect Friday, and professors and staff are encouraged to work from home. Most colleges in the region are moving to remote classes for the last two weeks of the semester after Thanksgiving break.

Ohioans warned about unemployment scam
Ohioans are being alerted to a scam targeting current and past recipients of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which was set up for people who don’t qualify for regular jobless benefits such as part time workers or independent contractors. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says the email notifications bear the agency’s logo and look legitimate but they are not. The fake email notifications instruct those targeted to click on a link to obtain a pandemic stimulus benefit. Instead of doing that, Ohioans are urged to contact the Ohio Attorney General’s office. Meanwhile, the state reported nearly 25,000 new unemployment claims were filed last week, marking the third straight week of increases.

Head of CVNP moves west
The head of Cuyahoga Valley National Park is headed west. Craig Kenkel has been selected as superintendent of the Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco. Kenkel has been with the park service for 37 years, and has been with Cuyahoga Valley since 2014. The news comes as the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which runs through the park has announced the cancellation of its Polar Express train rides for the remainder of the season.

Ohio sued over lower payments to relatives caring for kids
A federal lawsuit has been filed seeking to force Ohio to increase the amount of child support payments it provides to people who have taken custody of children they're related to. At issue in the complaint filed Thursday is a gap between payments to non-licensed relatives and relatives who become licensed. Ohio has been under pressure from child advocates to follow a 2017 federal appeals court ruling ordering equality in such payments. Child welfare advocates say around 4,100 children are currently in the custody of relatives. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in February that a plan for such payments was in the works.

Ohio lawmakers OK revamp of eligibility for school vouchers
A proposal to revamp who can qualify for Ohio’s biggest school voucher program has cleared the Republican-led Legislature over Democrats’ objections, sending the measure to GOP Gov. Mike DeWine for consideration. The EdChoice program funds private school tuition for students from poor-performing public schools. That eligibility list was slated to more than double to over 1,200 schools under current criteria, including some in wealthier areas, which raised concerns about funding and fairness. Instead, the list would shrink to about 470 schools in just 87 districts under the overhauled criteria, which include a poverty-related metric. The legislation also would expand eligibility for income-based EdChoice scholarships.

High school football championships moved from Columbus to Massillon
High school football state championship games are moving from Columbus to Massillon in Stark County this weekend. The Ohio High School Athletic Association made the change after Franklin County implemented a stay-at-home advisory due to the spread of the coronavirus. All six title games will be played at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, where 1,500 spectators will be allowed to attend each game.