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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

State Works to Increase Coronavirus Testing Capacity, Address Prison Infection Concerns

a photo of DeWine
The slide onscreen behind Gov. Mike DeWine shows the testing components the Ohio Department of Health and Ohio State are teaming up to provide.

The Ohio Department of Health has teamed up with Ohio State University to try to increase the capacity for COVID-19 testing across the state. They're producing their own kits with the items needed to conduct the tests--swabs, tubes, and the liquid in the tubes. "We need more testing and we need results quicker," Governor Mike DeWine said in his briefing Friday. 

The state today reported 3,312 cases of COVID-19 with 91 deaths, but limited testing has reduced the ability to accurately understand the scope of Ohio's COVID-19 outbreak. 

The governor indicated they're seeing results from an order earlier this week that hospitals stop sending tests to private labs for processing. It was taking as many as six days for those labs to produce results. 

"It's important for patients, important for all of us that we get the results back quick," DeWine said. DeWine said another group is working to deal with a shortage of the chemicals needed to complete processing of the tests.  

Getting a better understanding of the spread is important as the Ohio National Guard works to prepare for the expected surge in late April or early May that will tax the state's healthcare system with as many as 10,000 cases per day. 

The National Guard has been visiting sites around the state that could serve as temporary medical facilities. The state's adjutant general, Major General John Harris Jr., said they've been watching what's happening in other states and learning from their experiences. "Facilities we're building out are for less sick people and can be built out more quickly," he said. 

Harris said hospitals are working regionally and many entities are involved in the planning. "It's exciting to watch this develop," he said. "The approach is working."

Addressing prison infection
The state has been testing prison inmates and concern has been growing about the spread of infection in the confined spaces. The governor said the state prison population today stands at  48,991. 

DeWine said the prison system has been taking steps to protect inmates. Those who come into the system are held in separate reception areas for five weeks before entering the general population. 

DeWine said they are also carefully scrutinizing the prison population. They've identified 38 inmates whose cases they will send back to the sentencing judges for consideration of early release. The first group includes 23 women who are pregnant or recently gave birth. "These are not violent people," the governor said. "They are not sex offenders, not domestic abusers, not murderers." 

The second group includes 15 inmates who are over the age of 60 and are due to be released within the next few months. 

Distance learning
The governor also recognized Ohio educators and families who are tackling learning remotely. “We are really in unfamiliar territory in distance learning and it’s in full effect across the state,” he said. 

The state education department has developed a Remote Learning Resource Guide with best practices for guidance. 

With more people using distance learning tools via computer, Maj. General Harris encouraged people to practice cyber hygiene. "Our networks are running at higher capacity than ever," he said. He encouraged people to update anti-virus softwares and remember to change passwords.  

Many things have occurred in the state over the last few weeks regarding COVID-19. Among them: 

  • The state extended a stay-at-home order through May 1 and in the order has further defined what constitutes an essential business. 
  • A three member dispute resolution panel will have final say over whether a business should remain open. 
  • More than 468,000 Ohioans have applied for unemployment benefits, 100,000 more than in all of 2019. The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services is hiring more people and expanding hours at its call center. The state has also created a job posting board for positions currently in high demand: coronavirus.ohio.gov/jobsearch. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said nearly 12,000 jobs have already been posted. 
  • Hospitals must send COVID-19 tests to larger health systems — Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center — instead of private labs to prevent a lag in results. 
  • Manufacturers who have the ability to retool and make PPE for healthcare workers are urged to go to repurposingproject.com to see where they might be able to help. 
  • The state is allowing SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients to purchase groceries online for pickup or delivery. 
  • DeWine ordered ventilator tracking so the state has an understanding of where ventilators are and how many are available. Reports are to be made beginning Wednesday by 5:00 p.m. at coronavirus.ohio.org/ventinventory
  • Ohio EPA ordered a halt to water service shutoffs; all public water service is to be maintained. Customers who've been disconnected need to call to request reconnection.
  • DeWine ordered all schools to remain closed until May 1. The initial order closed them for three weeks. 
  • Battelle Labs has begun its effort to help address the shortage of PPE. It has developed a way to sanitize up to 80,000 N95 masks per machine per day.  
  • Lt. Gov. Jon Husted says over the last two weeks Ohio's unemployment compensation system has had two times as many applicants as it had over the past two years. 
  • Daycares closed at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, March 25 unless they secured a temporary pandemic childcare license from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. A limited number of temporary licenses were awarded and are intended to provide care for healthcare, emergency personnel, and other essential employees. 
  • DeWine has issued an order to freeze state government hiring as well as new contracts to save the state money. 
  • The state issued a stay-at-home order, which took effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday, March 23. This means Ohioans must only leave their homes for essential needs like groceries, medicine or exercise. To view which businesses are open and closed, click here.
  • DeWine ordered centers for people with disabilities to close. Alternatives have been offered to those who need them. 
  • Public playgrounds have been ordered to close. 
  • Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor will be inviting local courts to apply for a share of $4 million in grant funding to help them acquire video conferencing technology to reduce the need for in-person trials and transactions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Ohio Medicaid will expand telehealth services to get in contact with health professionals amid the outbreak. It'll include phone calls, FaceTime and smart phones.
  • Barbershops, hair and nail salons, spas and tattoo parlors were ordered to close at end of business Wednesday, March 18. 
  • More than 180 Bureau of Motor Vehicles locations have also been shut down. Five around the state will remain open to issue commercial driver's licenses. DeWine is asking the Ohio General Assembly to pass legislation that will grant a grace period for people who can’t renew licenses. He's also asking law enforcement, including State Highway Patrol, to not issue tickets for someone who has an expired license.
  • DeWine is asking all businesses, including nonprofits, manufacturers and retailers, to check each employee's temperature before the individual enters the workplace every day. If the person's temperature is elevated, they should be sent home. He's also encouraging employees to check their own temperature every day as a precaution. 
  • Lt. Gov. Jon Husted has encouraged people to apply for unemployment benefits online. Requests have skyrocketed. The state is reducing the wait time to receive benefits to help those left without work suddenly due to coronavirus. Go to unemployment.ohio.gov to apply. He also asked small businesses who need financial relief to go to sba.gov/disaster
  • Hospitals are postponing elective surgeries until further notice. The state issued the order Tuesday to conserve protective equipment for health care workers and keep beds open. Patients will receive a call if their surgery has been canceled. The Ohio Hospital Association also says that hospitals across the state are prepared for a 25% surge in COVID-19 cases if that happens. 
  • Ohio has postponed its primaries. Not even 12 hours before polls were supposed to open, Dr. Amy Acton, the director of the Ohio Department of Health issued a health emergency to shut down polling locations. For more information on what happened, click here.
  • The state has shut down more facilities, including gyms, fitness centers, recreation facilities, theaters, indoor water parks and indoor trampoline parks. 
  • Bars and restaurants closed down to prevent large gatherings. DeWine said he came to the decision after he received multiple complaints about crowds over the weekend. Carry-out and delivery options are still available. 
  • The state is implementing a COVID-19 treatment plan for individuals with an addiction or mental health issues. This includes more telehealth services that will allow patients to video chat with professionals or call a landline. The plan will also implement a service that will allow people to get their medications without having to physically go to a pharmacy. Pharmacies are making sure they have adequate supplies of medications
  • The Cleveland Clinic is officially offering drive-thru coronavirus testing with a doctor's order. It's in partnership with University Hospitals, which is doing the same. The testing location is in University Circle.
  • President Donald Trump declared a national emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. This allows the White House to get direct aid quickly from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for disasters and health crises. Trump has also been tested for COVID-19 and doesn't have it.  
  • DeWine issued an order that prohibits visitors in jails. The state also isn't allowing visitors in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and psychiatric facilities. 
  • Ohio K-12 schools shut down  March 16 for three weeks. That order has been extended until May 1. DeWine  said he will help schools with whatever they need, but it's up to administrators to figure out how to determine details of educating students while they're at home and when they return. 
  • Kent State University, Oberlin College and Ohio State University have canceled in-person classes for the rest of the semester. Classes will be online. Kent State has also postponed pre-commencement and commencement for spring. Many other schools are doing the same.