'We're Going Into the Eye of the Storm': DeWine Signs Bill Addressing Coronavirus Impact

Mar 27, 2020

Ohio's top health official delivered grim but expected numbers about the coronavirus outbreak during Friday's press conference. 

Dr. Amy Acton, the director of the Ohio Department of Health, said there are 1,137 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. More than 260 are hospitalized, and 16% are health care workers.

There have also been 15 deaths within the last week. Ohio's first COVID-19-related death was reported March 20. 

Acton said the surge of cases that was once expected to peak in early May has been pushed to mid-May because of residents taking precautions like social distancing and staying home. 

But the number of cases the state will see during that surge has increased. 

"We're projecting as many as 10,000 new cases a day," Acton said. On Thursday, she said health officials were estimating 6,000 to 8,000 cases. 

Acton and Gov. Mike DeWine said they're working with hospitals throughout the region to increase capacity and prepare for more cases.

In the future, Acton expects to use entire floors of empty hotel rooms and dorms as makeshift hospital rooms to help open up beds for COVID-19 patients. The Cleveland Clinic told DeWine the state will start seeing a stark rise in cases within the next two weeks.

"We're going into the eye of the storm," Acton said. 

While the hospital system prepares for the surge, the coronavirus has caused a disruption in other state operations. DeWine signed a bill during the press conference that aims to ease those effects. Here are some of changes included in the bill: 

  • Mandatory school testing is canceled for this year
  • No in-person primary; absentee ballots accepted until April 28 (get your ballot at voteohio.gov)
  • Nursing graduates can be granted a temporary certificate to begin working to help hospitals
  • Water utility shutoffs are prohibited
  • Tax filing deadline extended to July 15
  • Allows professional services to hire workers who have retired at state and youth prisons, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Department of Veteran Services and the Department of Developmental Disabilities
  • Waiting period for unemployment benefits has been waived

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman joined DeWine by phone to talk about the $2 trillion relief package the House passed earlier Friday. President Donald Trump signed it nearly two hours after the press conference. It includes:

  • $4.3 billion for state/local health departments
  • $1.5 billion for each state, including Ohio
  • Relief checks for people who filed with the IRS in 2018 (to learn more about the relief checks, click here)
  • Up to $10 million in loans will be available for small businesses with 500 employees or less (go to sba.gov for more information)
  • Large businesses will be able to apply for other loans
  • Extends unemployment benefits to private contractors and freelancers

Sen. Sherrod Brown is expected to join DeWine during Saturday's conference. 

As for the unemployment benefits extension, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said he hasn't received guidance from the federal government yet, but he is working on system for nontraditional employees. 

While the state begins to implement changes, Acton asked everyone to "don your cape" and encourage others to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

"We are determined," Action said. "We need you to be determined."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include President Trump signing the nearly $2 trillion relief package. 

Many changes have been made in the state to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and much has happened over the last few weeks: 

  • Nearly 188,000 Ohioans have filed for unemployment, according to new numbers released by the state Thursday. 
  • Daycares closed at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday 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. The new proposed voting date is June 2 but the details still have to be worked out by the courts and/or the state legislature. Absentee ballots would be allowed until then. For more information on what happened, click here.
  • Lt. Gov. Jon Husted gave an update on unemployment requests. 78,000 requests have been filed. It was 6,500 two weeks ago. He also asked small businesses who need financial relief to go to sba.gov/disaster.  absentee ballot, click here.
  • The state has shut down more facilities, including gyms, fitness centers, recreation facilities, theaters, indoor water parks and indoor trampoline parks. 
  • University of Akron has decided to keep classes online for the rest of the semester. The school has also asked students to leave the residence halls by 11 p.m. Wednesday. 
  • Kent State employee has tested negative for COVID-19 after coming into contact with a patient who has the disease. Students have been ordered to leave the residence halls by the end of the week and are eligible for a refund. The university has also announced it will start limiting operations at all eight campuses Monday afternoon. 
  • Bars and restaurants closed down Sunday night temporarily 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.
  • Summit County confirmed its first case of COVID-19 Friday. A woman in her 50s is a case of community spread, which means she didn't travel or have direct contact with other COVID-19 patients. The county and the city of Akron have declared public health emergencies. All community centers in Akron closed Monday.  
  • President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday 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.  
  • Lawmakers plan to send a letter to Trump with 17 requests for state relief, such as having access to more protective equipment for health care workers. 
  • 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 Monday afternoon for three weeks. 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. 
  • Ohio has temporarily banned mass gatherings of 100 or more people together in close promiximity in a certain place. This includes parades, fairs, theaters and more.