Court Hearings Via Zoom Are Working Well. OH Really? Answers Your Coronavirus Questions
As some of Ohio’s non-essential businesses reopen, you’ve still got questions about how coronavirus will affect everything from college tuition refunds to child custody hearings.
This week, we’ve received several questions about what life in Northeast Ohio might be like as the state reopens.
Listener Wendy Lichtenwalter, from Canton, wants to know if, "it would be possible for people -- who know they’ve been separated from other people for 14 days -- to form groups of friends that would be okay to spend time with in a more normal way? I’m not recommending going to the gym or a restaurant, but just the chance to talk to somebody [or] have a meal with another person."
We asked Summit County Public Health for an answer. Their advice is to maybe eat outdoors together while maintaining six feet of social distancing, now that the weather will be getting nicer.
Since Wendy and her neighbor aren't household contacts, they still shouldn’t go into each other's homes. The health department also helped answer another question we received this week.
Social distancing by age
Meg Stanton from Bath wants to know if people 65 and older will be the last group to stop social distancing. Health Commissioner Donna Skoda says that’s not going to be based on age.
“I don’t think they’ll differentiate between any particular groups. They have certainly identified at-risk groups. But I don’t think we would change it, because you’re always at-risk," Skoda said. "You don’t want to put a bunch of people back together again if we don’t have adequate testing and if we don’t know where they’ve been. And I want to remind everyone that there is a certain percentage of individuals that do not show symptoms, yet still test positive for COVID-19. So that would be very difficult to do.”
Our next question came in anonymously, asking if Kent State University will return tuition money to students who paid for in-class instruction before the pandemic.
I recently spoke with Kent State President Todd Diacon about this, and he estimates that they’ve refunded about $14 million in pro-rated student housing and dining fees.
The Ohio Department of Higher Education says that, ultimately, each university will have to decide how to handle refunds – there’s no blanket policy. But when it comes to tuition, Ohio law does not differentiate between face-to-face and online instruction. So essentially, a refund based on the method of instruction isn't required by the state.
Shared custody and domestic relations
Our next question comes from Karly Lind of Hiram, who asks about the guidelines for shared custody situations in families during the state’s “Stay Safe” order, which now runs through May 29.
Ever since the stay-at-home order began in March, travel for shared custody has been permitted. Margaret Scott, the chief magistrate in the Summit County Domestic Relations Court, says there may be a silver lining for kids being transported in those situations. "I am sure that many of them do enjoy being able to interact with different people and just getting outside for a little bit."
Magistrate Scott says the pandemic has definitely affected operations at the domestic relations court, as most hearings have moved online.
"We’ve been fairly generous with giving continuances. Certainly we understand that this is a different situation than we’re used to seeing. The only hearings where people are coming into our court are the domestic violence civil protection orders. Because of the emergency nature of the Ex parte and the nature of those hearings, we are having those parties and the attorneys come into court. But other than that, everything is being done primarily by Zoom. And I have to say, it’s working out really well.”
What is an R0 number?
Finally this week, Richard Stratton of Green wants to know about COVID-19 and its R0 or “R-naught” number.
Summit County Public Health Epidemiologist Joan Hall says it all has to do with contagiousness.
"R0 is basically the estimated number of people that a person with COVID-19 can infect. I haven’t seen recent estimates. I know that was a hot topic when COVID-19 first started developing. And I’ve seen about 2-2.5 for COVID-19. So that means a person infected with COVID-19 is estimated to infect, on average, about two to two-and-a-half people. For comparison, measles – which is a highly contagious infection – has an R0 of between 12 and 18 people. And the common influenza has an R0 of about 1.5.”